The Morisco Refugee Crisis of 1609-1614

During the Middle Ages, the Iberian Peninsula was home to a significant Jewish population, where Catholic rulers in the North of Spain (Burgos, Catalonia, Aragon and Castile), and Muslim rulers in the South of Spain (Andalusia) would find subjects of various religious backgrounds.  This changed dramatically in 1492 CE when the last Muslim dynasty in Granada was conquered by Isabella and Ferdinand, the rulers of the northern Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. After 1492 Jews and Muslims were required to convert and undergo forced baptisms.  After a failed uprising in 1568 in Granada emigration increased.  Many Jews and Muslims in Spain were subject to constant surveillance and imprisonment and torture under the institution of the Inquisition administered by the Dominican Order. Known as Moriscos the best estimate is that about 300,000 Jewish and Muslim “Moriscos” were driven out of Spain between about 1609 and 1614[1].  This led to mass migration of Jewish refugees eastward to the Ottoman Empire, and to Istanbul where they were better received, and to smaller communities in North Africa, as at Testour in Tunisia where we find a prominent Jewish synagogue built there after the expulsion from Spain[2]. Jewish prominence and presence in Tunisia and Algeria  was significant through the late 20th century where the Tunisian Jewish novelist and social critic Albert Memmi was a prominent writer, and the Algerian Jewish musician Maurice El-Medioni were born and raised.

[1] Antonio Dominguez Ortiz and Bernard Vincent, Historia de los Moriscos: Vida y tragedia d una minoría (Madrid, 1978), pp. 17 35; Mercedes Garcia Arenal, La diaspora des Andalousiens (Paris, 2003).

[2] Suraiya N. Faroqhi, “Demography and Migration,” in Robert Irwin, ed., New Cambridge History of Islam, Vol. 4 Islamic Cultures and Societies to the End of the Eighteenth Century.  (Cambridge University Press, 2010) p. 310.

The map below illustrates the direction of movement of this mass migration of the Jewish and Muslim refugees from 1609-1614.  Note the dispersion to parts of North Africa and to Istanbul in Ottoman Turkey.

Compare the map above with the current European refugee crisis shown in the map and figures below.  Note that these figures do not even count 2016!