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Asians Forced Out of Uganda

KampalaOn 7 August 1972, the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin ordered Asians who were not Ugandan citizens to leave the country within 90 days. It was estimated that around 28,000 of those expelled from Uganda came to Britain. The majority settled in Wembley in London, Middlesex and Leicester. Their arrival was met by both surprise and reluctance by government, even though many were highly skilled workers. There were many objections to their arrival in Britain, and Leicester City Council urged the Ugandan Asians not to come to the city by printing advertisements in local newspapers.

These negative reactions were in part due to the heightened animosity towards Commonwealth immigration and fears of raising racial tensions. Conservative MPs insisted they should not be allowed entry, with Roland Bell MP commenting: 'They were either born in India or have retained close connection with India. They have no connection with Britain either by blood or residence'.

In May 1973 Runnymede's Director David Stephen remarked in a speech to the Cambridge University Labour Club that, 'Press coverage was very much greater before the facts were known... The numbers, rather than issues of substance about, for example, housing or social welfare, dominated the issue.'

Many of the Asians had originally come to Uganda from Gujarat in the 19th century to operate the rail industry, and had settled in Uganda retaining British passports. Although Asians formed the backbone of the Ugandan economy, resentment had been growing among the black majority, and Amin accused the Asians of milking the economy of its wealth.

Extract from Runnymede Trustees Papers: 7 September 1972

There was some disagreement as to how long immigration would remain an issue. It was pointed out that the decision from the European Court is expected in about 2 years' time which, if successful, would result in right of entry being restored to UK passport holders in East Africa, and this would fan racial resentment. There would probably be a general election about that time. There was also the danger than in the succession struggle whenever Kenyatta dies the Kenyan Asians with British passports might face expulsion in their turn. It was agreed that it is not possible to separate the East African Asians from other immigrants in the public mind, and that coloured immigration is likely to preoccupy the public for probably at least another five years.

The Director's assumption that the Asian communities would not present a problem was also questioned. There may be a form of anti-Asianism generally similar to anti-Semitism, the Asians being attacked for economic crimes, lack of patriotism, cultural differences, divided loyalties, geographical separateness etc. They may become like the Jewish community, exhibiting similar traits.

… It was thought that British racism and xenophobia will be against Europeans in the future just as it is against Asians now…'

Audio Interview

Nicholas DeakinNicholas Deakin has worked as a civil servant and in local government and chaired national and local voluntary bodies. He was a founding member of the Runnymede Trust and worked with Jim Rose on the seminal Colour and Citizenship. From 1980 to 1998 he was Professor of Social Policy and Administration at the University of Birmingham. He is currently Vice-Chair of the Baring Foundation.

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