Spain passes citizenship plan for descendants of Jews exiled centuries ago

People standing near a gift shop in the old Jewish Quarter of Toledo in Spain Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Tens of thousands of Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492

Spain's parliament has approved a law that will ease the path to citizenship for descendants of Jews who fled the country five centuries ago.

It will allow those who can trace their roots to the expelled Jewish community, also known as Sephardic Jews, to apply for a Spanish passport from October.

The aim is to correct what Spain's government has called a "historic mistake".

Tens of thousands of Jews were expelled in 1492 during the Spanish Inquisition.

Those who remained had to convert to Catholicism or risked being burnt at the stake.


"This law says much about who we were in the past and who we are today and what we want to be in the future - an open, diverse and tolerant Spain," said Spanish Justice Minister Rafael Catala.

The measure will grant dual citizenship to people with Sephardic Jewish roots who have passed a test of Spanish language and culture.

There will be an initial window of three years for applications from those who can prove their Spanish Jewish origins.

The Spanish government estimates 90,000 people will apply for citizenship via this route.

Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption The Spanish government estimates that some 90,000 people could apply for citizenship

But officials have said that there is no exact way of knowing how many of the descendants of Spain's original Jewish community will meet the criteria.

Local media report that some 3.5 million people could benefit from the new law.

"Today begins a new stage in the history of relations between Spain and the Jewish world,'' said the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities in a statement.

"A new period of reunion, dialogue and harmony reintegrating a branch of the nation that was unjustly torn off in its day."

The announcement comes two months after Portugal approved a similar plan.

Tens of thousands of Sephardic Jews were forced off the Iberian peninsula in the 15th Century, first from Spain and then from Portugal.

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