Ugandan Asians in Britain


Shailesh Vara MP last week paid tribute to the Ugandan Asians who settled in Britain some 40 years ago.

It was in 1972 that President Idi Amin of Uganda launched a crackdown against 57,000 Ugandan Asians who held British passports, giving them 90 days to leave the country before being thrown into concentration camps.

The then Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath’s government took the courageous decision to welcome 28,000 refugees to the UK.

In a speech at the House of Commons Vara stated:

"28,000 British passport holders came here frightened, homeless, penniless and with only the clothes that they wore on their backs."

Vara added that the warmth showed to British Ugandans showed,

"Britain at its very best."

But it wasn’t all rosy. The town where I grew up, Leicester, received many refugees from Uganda, with resentment and a backlash which was to have profound effects on many people. ‘Paki-bashing’, as it was known then was committed by skin heads for the sole purpose of terrorizing Asian communities. In response, Asian youths formed the ‘Sapno gang’, -the dream gang- whose raison d’être was to defend their communities.

As a young boy I witnessed first hand the horror of seeing a Sikh man being beaten to an inch of his life because he was Asian.

But as Vara stated this was/is resilient community and resourceful. Many used their business acumen they had in virtually running Uganda and transferred those skills with little or no money to be successful entrepreneurs here in the UK. Many have flourished and in doing so helped transform our society, from doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, to changing our palates from the often soggy fish and chips to chicken tandoori.

In Uganda, although historians have condemned much of the dictatorial actions of President Idi Amin, today’s scholars now reflect more upon  the colonial Asian-African divide and rule in which the relatively affluent and powerful Asians often despised and looked down on their African neighbours.

Closer to home however, in regards to the immigration and integration debate today it’s worth noting that if individuals who are given the chance to work and excel often fulfill their potential. It’s almost in the DNA of the migrant, the desire to succeed, often against the odds.

Simon Woolley