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Lord Popat and Shailesh Vara: Britain found a home for Ugandan Asians

By Lord Popat of Harrow and Shailesh Vara Member of Parliament for Northwest Cambridgeshire.

On 4th August 1972 Idi Amin, the Ugandan President who had seized power in a coup just over a year earlier, announced that he had had a dream, in which God had told him to expel the Asian. Amin issued a decree ordering almost all Asians in Uganda - some 60,000 of them - to leave.

This brutal eviction saw people forced to leave behind their homes, businesses, land, bank accounts, temples; everything but the clothes on their back, their family and the spirit that had allowed them to flourish in Uganda and elsewhere.

The expulsion led to a global game of political football. Kenya closed its borders to these people. During Independence Ugandan Asians had been given British protected passports and now India made clear the 60,000 were Britain's responsibility.

Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath and his Government rose to the occasion and demonstrated the compassion that we have come to associate with Britain. He ruled that Britain had a legal and moral responsibility to take in those with British passports. In many homes of Ugandan Asians across Britain today, pictures of Ted Heath still hang proudly.

Over 28,000 homeless and scared refugees arrived between August and November at Stansted Airport. Many had made the journeys in the middle of the night, fearing for their lives and harassed by the regular military checkpoints along their Ugandan route. Those arriving were greeted at Stansted by a large number of charitable and voluntary organisations who gave them food and shelter. 16 temporary camps were set up across the country on old military bases as the refugees began to take stock, and acclimatise to the British weather.

Although the flight from Uganda was horrific for many, it is not to relive that ordeal that we gather in both the House of Lords and Commons today to talk about this issue. Today we are discussing, debating and paying tribute to the contribution that the Ugandan Asian community has made to the United Kingdom since their expulsion 40 years ago. And also to praise the British community who showed their warmth and humanity in abundance in welcoming the refugees.

Ugandan Asians play a sizeable role in the national economy. Whilst exact figures are not easily available for the impact of this one community, Britain's with South Asian routes make up 2.5% of the population, but account for 10% of our national output.

At the launch of the Conservative Friends of India in April, the Prime Minister said "The East African Indians who have been one of the most successful groups of immigrants to any country anywhere in history who give so much to this incredible country."

But the element we are most proud of is how we have integrated into British society and how we have become a values-led community; the expulsion was difficult on so many levels, and we must not forget those who lost their lives. But we are a stronger community and better people because of the challenges that had to be overcome.


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