On August 5th 1972, Ugandan President, Idi Amin issued a chilling message that would turn lives upside down forever.
Thousands of Asians were to be expelled from Uganda after the President claimed that they were ‘economic bloodsuckers’ who were exploiting the wealth of the country at the expense of native Africans.
They were given 90 days to get out - leaving everything behind. In all, almost 30,000 Ugandan Asians came to the UK and many went to 12 resettlement camps nationwide.
ITV Wales followed that story back in 1972 and now with the perspective of 40 years, Wales This Week can show what those families faced and how they moved on with their lives since that time. Catch:** Wales This Week - Adopting The Dragon: Tuesday 31st July 1930 **ITV1 Wales.
– Azim Somani, 1972 Refugee
40 years on we are here. Idi Amin is not here, he is dead. And people’s lives were turned upside down. And we have never found that community again. The feeling and the love and the mix of communities that we used to see for all walks of life, it doesn’t matter which religion or creed or whatever they followed, that is difficult to find now.
In the autumn of 1972 a remote corner of North Wales became a safe haven for more than a thousand Ugandan Asians.
At a time when there were very few Asians living in Wales, a small community was created in an empty military base at Tonfanau almost overnight.
But on the dark, windy, wet night when the refugees arrived - something changed. It didn’t matter what had come before. Clearly these were families in crisis, traumatised, tired, hungry and in a totally alien environment. And the people of Wales stepped up to the challenge.
It was a phenomenal moment for the neighbouring communities of Tonfanau who came together to help a fraction of those families in crisis.
At the time, the volunteers from North Wales didn’t have too much of a clue what had happened to these Asian families. Their information was piecemeal, augmented by rumour and hearsay. And there seemed to be a few voices in the area who did not welcome the new arrivals. In England, there were red and green zones - to prevent new Asians moving into areas where it was felt there were already too many members of that ethnic minority.
Quietly, gently life-time friendships were created in Tonfanau, small acts of kindness helped people begin again, while sharing of cultures, enriched the experiences of all. Memories were forged which have never been forgotten
HISTORY OF ASIANS IN UGANDA:
The British had encouraged professional, high achievers within India to come to Uganda to help with the building of the railways. It was the offer of a better life with good prospects.
Many came and settled, were successful and raised their own families in the East African country. Some were shopkeepers, teachers, entrepreneurs and business people. They had good homes, could afford to educate their children and life looked good.
But over time, there grew a feeling that this Asian community were actually exploiting the local native population. They were taking and not giving, they were achieving financial success on the backs of others.
The reality was, of course, far more complex. Some of the community were well off, others not so. But it created, after Uganda achieved independence in 1962, a fertile ground for those who wanted Ugandan Asians out.
Once Idi Amin announced that this community had to leave, their experience of life in Uganda changed. There were soldiers around carrying guns. There were reports of violence and killings. Pratibha Patel, who lives in Pontypool, describes her memories of this aged just ten.
– Pratibha Patel, 1972 Refugee
We were asked to leave the country. 90 days they were giving us to leave the country. Where do we go? what shall we do? frightening. Army everywhere, guns everywhere....When we were told we had to leave we saw guns at every corner. It was very frightening.
Gradually, these families realised they would have to go and they would have to leave all their possessions behind - they were allowed a suitcase and £50 a family each. But many reported having valuable items taken by soldiers as they travelled to the airport to get out.
Fear entered their lives and some, like Chandrika Joshi, who is now a dentist in Cardiff, have spent those 40 years trying to understand what effect this had on her character and her life experience.
– Chandrika Joshi, 1972 Refugee
I do remember the whole village, it was a bit like a horror film when you get this sensation that one minute the sun is shining and everything is very vibrant and everyone is laughing and joking and everyone feels secure and the next thing is that something has happened to the village and you get these punches, in this whole idyllic surroundings where there are black holes so it felt like that.