Spain extends citizenship law for Sephardic Jews

Exiled in 1492. 6,500 descendants granted citizenship in 3 years

13 March, 20:12

    'Casa Sefarad', the house of Sephardic Jewws in Madrid 'Casa Sefarad', the house of Sephardic Jewws in Madrid

    MADRID - The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain (FCJE) expressed "profound gratitude" to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy for granting a one-year extension on the law in which descendants of Sephardic Jews who were exiled from the country in 1492 can request Spanish citizenship.

    The law is now extended until October 1, 2019, the deadline by which descendants of the exiled can become naturalised Spanish citizens.

    The extension was provided for in a law that was modified in 2015, which established a three-year time period for reparations over the "historical injustice" of the Alhambra Decree.

    The edict, which ordered the expulsion of Jews who refused forced conversion to Catholicism, was emitted more than five centuries ago by the joint Catholic monarchs of Spain, after the successful conquest of Granada.

    Further extensions to the measure may also be possible, given the dispersion of Sephardic Jews worldwide.

    Spanish Education, Culture and Sport Minister Iñigo Mendez de Vigo announced the extension in a press conference following a cabinet meeting last Friday approving the measure.

    He said the law represents "a meeting point between modern Spaniards and the descendants of those who were unjustly expelled in 1492".

    "Regarding the intolerance of the past, the measure aims to jointly build a new space for co-habitation and harmony that permanently reopens the door of their ancient country to those communities who were expelled from Spain," he said.

    Since October 1, 2015, 6,432 Sephardic Jews have obtained a Spanish ID card, 1,910 of whom obtained it through the law.

    The law recognises Spanish nationality for anyone who can show (through a certificate from the Jewish communities in Spain or the rabbinic authority of his or her country) his or her status as Sephardic by surname, language, relatives or special links to the Sephardic culture.

    The other 4,302 naturalisations granted in 2015 and the 220 in 2016 were given by decree, because their individual procedures had already been started when the law came into force.

    By nationality, initially the majority of requests came from Israeli citizens (96), followed by Venezuela (60) and Colombia (60).

    In 2017, the majority came from Venezuela (254), Israel (202) and Mexico (146).

    Many descendants of the Sephardic Jews, such as those in Istanbul, still have the keys to the homes from which their ancestors were expelled.

    In fact, in three years the Spanish Consolate in Istanbul has granted Spanish citizenship to 2,800 people, with an average of eight per day and an average waiting time of two years to complete the process, according to figures recently provided in a Senate hearing by the Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Idelfonso Castro.

    In any case, the total number of naturalised Spanish citizens is still "symbolic" compared to the half-million potential descendants and beneficiaries of the historic reparations estimated at the time of the measure's approval, as Senator Jon Iñarritu of the nationalist Basque party EH Bildu reminded Spain's justice minister in a recent questioning session.

    Iñarritu said despite the fact that the requests accepted thus far based on the measure are "an important step", the procedure for obtaining Spanish citizenship is still "an obstacle course".

    The senator called for a permanent extension of the measure's deadline to "give time for the numerous people with the right to acquire Spanish citizenship".

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