BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
    You are in: UK  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
N Ireland
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
 Wednesday, 1 January, 2003, 10:26 GMT
UK 'did not want Ugandan Asians'
Ugandan Asians arriving in the UK
Idi Amin expelled Asians from Uganda 30 years ago
Cabinet papers just released from 1972 reveal how the Conservative Government of the time tried to find a remote island home for thousands of Ugandan Asians who eventually settled in Britain.

The UK took in 25,000 Ugandan Asians, expelled from their homeland by the country's dictator Idi Amin.

But the papers - released under the 30-year rule - show ministers were initially worried at the effect on race relations and whether Britain would be inundated with refugees from other East African countries.

Ugandan Asians leaving for Britain
Many countries refused to take in the refugees

The Ugandan crisis came four years after prominent Tory MP Enoch Powell made his "rivers of blood" speech.

News that ministers searched for an alternative British territory has angered some of the former refugees - most of whom held British passports.

The resettlement of the Ugandan Asians into Britain 30 years ago is often cited as one of the more successful immigration operations.


General Amin, resentful of the wealth of the entrepreneurial Asians, had given them a deadline to leave Uganda - accusing them of being "bloodsuckers" and milking his country's economy.

The newly-released papers show the disarray in Sir Edward Heath's government at how to accommodate the refugees.

Other countries - including Japan, India and Australia - were asked to take in immigrants but all refused.

The papers show that one suggestion was to set up an island territory - similar to Hong Kong - on which to put the refugees.

Ugandan Asian refugees
There were fears the new arrivals would be 'parasites'

The Solomon Islands, in the Pacific, were considered. The Falklands Islands, which did offer to take some refugees, were also discounted.

In the end some of the 80,000 Ugandan Asians went to Canada and South Africa, while 25,000 were taken in by Britain.

In Britain the released papers reflect the "chaos" and "racial debate" which ensued and the consideration given to finding an alternative island home for the refugees.

Not so welcoming

Journalist Yasmin Alibhai Brown, who as a child was among those in the exodus, said the idea that Britain cast around for another country to take the immigrants still upsets her.

"It still makes me angry - how dare Britain try to palm off its own citizens to these countries who were not prepared to do anything," she said.

Ms Brown said the reception the refugees received was very mixed.

"Fifty percent of the population was very warm...there was extraordinary generosity which has all but disappeared towards new arrivals," she said.

But others were not so welcoming.

"I remember people standing at airports with placards telling us to 'get back to where you came from'," said Ms Brown, a writer for The Independent newspaper.

Mazoor Moghul, national vice-president of the Ugandan evacuation programme, remembers his experiences coming to live in Leicester.

'Shining example'

"The government's attitude was not helpful initially and the media was carried away with hysteria," he told BBC News 24.

There was a fear the new immigrants would be "parasites" - a belief which the former refugees have proved unfounded over the years.

Idi Amin
Idi Amin used Asians as a scapegoat

Many have turned into successful businessmen and women, leading to the Ugandan Asian resettlement being seen as one of the most successful in Britain's history.

Mr Moghul said the initial reception in Leicester was charged with racism, which both he and his children experienced.

But over the years the settlement of the Ugandan Asians in Leicester and their work with the local council has helped create a "shining example" to others of how mixed races can live together, he said.

Former Conservative minister Lord Carlisle said he believed the success of many of the Ugandan refugees in the UK showed the government "was indeed right" in offering them a safe haven.

  The BBC's Sean Ley
"The government searched for an island which could become a home for future refugees"
  Yasmin Alibhai Brown, The Independent
"Public opinion was kinder, warmer and more generous towards us"
See also:

08 Nov 02 | In Depth
09 Nov 02 | Africa
29 Oct 02 | Hardtalk
09 May 99 | Kosovo
31 May 02 | Country profiles
11 Apr 02 | Country profiles
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |