Why Ugandan Asians were expelled by Idi Amin and how they ended up in UK

Archive courtesy of AP Archive and MACE Archive

This year marks 50 years since ex-President Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of all Asian Ugandans from Uganda. 

Asians in the country were given just 90 days to leave in 1972. 

Former President Amin forced tens of thousands of people to leave Uganda and it brought panic, heartache and fear as it was a country they loved - and a place they called home.

ITV News Central explores and explains what happened in 1972 and why Asians were expelled from their country.

How many Ugandan Asians were expelled?

In 1972 there were around 80,000 Ugandans of Indian descent in the country - 23,000 of which had their applications for citizenship both processed and accepted.

Ugandan Asians became one of the largest groups of refugees ever to be accepted into the UK.

Who was Idi Amin?

Ugandan President Idi Amin in 1972 Credit: PA Images

Idi Amin was a Ugandan military officer and politician who served as the third president of Uganda from 1971-1979. 

He ruled as a military dictator and is considered to be one of the most brutal despots in history.

President Amin came to be known as the "Butcher of Uganda" for his brutality, and it is believed that some 300,000 people were killed and countless others tortured during his presidency.

Why did Ugandan Asians have to migrate?

Ex-president Amin accused a minority of Asians of being disloyal and for also “sabotaging Uganda’s economy and encouraging corruption”.

These claims have been disputed on numerous occasions by Indian leaders. He also defended the expulsion by arguing he was “giving Uganda back to ethnic Ugandans”. 

The British, having brought Indians to the region, had invested in the education of the Asian minority during colonial times in preference to the indigenous Ugandans. 

By the early 1970s, many Indians in Southeast Africa and Uganda were employed in the sartorial and banking businesses and Indophobia was already ingrained by the start of President Amin’s rule in 1971.

While not all Ugandan Asians were well off, they were on average better off than the indigenous communities. They constituted 1% of the population while earning a fifth of the national income. 

Military dictator Amin had taken control of Uganda under a coup in 1971. 

After this, he carried out a census of Asians in Uganda and publicly accused them of economic misconduct and ethnic insularity. In 1972 Amin expelled all Asians from Uganda and seized their property. 

In response, Britain agreed to allow the entry of all of those refugees that it could not persuade other countries to accept.

These two small girls from Uganda, who were among the first group of expelled Asians to land here Credit: PA

What happened in 1972 in Uganda and when were Asians in Uganda expelled? 

  • August 4 1972 - Amin declared that Britain would need to take on the responsibility of caring for British subjects who were of Asian origin. He gave British subjects a deadline of three months to leave, which meant November 8, 1972. 

  • August 9, 1972 - The policy was expanded to include citizens of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

What was the impact of the expulsion?

The population declined dramatically when Amin ordered the expulsion of all non-citizen Asians and later those who held Ugandan citizenship.

Although the latter group's expulsion order was eventually rescinded, the majority still left the country. By the end of the year, only a small number of Asians remained in Uganda.

Amin commandeered both the businesses and personal goods of the expelled Asian communities and redistributed them to the remaining African population.

For a relatively short time, his actions were immensely popular with most Ugandans, but the country recovered slowly from the economic consequences of this. 

In the early 1990s, the Ugandan government formally invited the expelled Asian community to return; thousands did so, and some had their property returned to them. 

How many Ugandan Asians came to the UK in 1972 and what was the reaction?

A School ID card a Ugandan Asian brought to the UK Credit: Leicester City Council

Many of those who were expelled were citizens of the UK and colonies (50,000 were British passport holders) and 27,200 chose to emigrate to the United Kingdom. 

The British government ultimately permitted 27,000 to move to the UK through the Uganda Resettlement Board.

There were objections to the arrival of the Ugandan Asians in the UK - Leicester City Council even took out newspaper advertisements at the time warning them not to come to the city seeking jobs and homes.

But their re-settlement came to be viewed as a success story for British immigration and in 1991 President Yoweri Museveni invited the expelled community to "return home" to help rebuild the economy.

When did the Ugandan Asians come to the UK?

On September 18, 1972 - 193 refugees landed at 9.30am at Stansted Airport, the first of hundreds of flights that would carry out the evacuation.

Some families had made their own arrangements for accommodation, but others were taken to an RAF camp at Stradishall in Suffolk.

They were greeted by the resettlement board chairman, Sir Charles Cunningham.

The first arrivals to disembark from a chartered aircraft were these families about to start a new life away from the turmoil of Uganda Credit: PA

How was Idi Amin overthrown?

Idi Amin’s rule in Uganda - which ended when he was overthrown in 1979 - was one of the African country’s most brutal periods.

The Uganda-Tanzania War was fought between Uganda and Tanzania from October 1978 until June 1979 and led to the overthrow of Idi Amin.

How many Ugandan Asians are in the UK?

A majority of immigrants from Uganda live in and around London. At the time of the 2001 Census, 11,000 Ugandan Asians were reported to be living in Leicester.

Between 1968 and 1978, more than 20,000 displaced East African Asians settled in Leicester and now "constitute the dominant sub-group in the Leicester Asian community".

President Amin denounced the Ugandan Asians as "Bloodsuckers" and warned any remaining in the country after November 8, 1972, risked being imprisoned in military camps.

In total, around 103,588 East African Asians entered Britain, mainly from Uganda and Kenya.

What events are taking place to mark 50 years of Ugandan Asians arriving to the UK?

‘Rebuilding Lives: 50 Years of Ugandan Asians in Leicester’ will recognise those who fled the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, and celebrate the positive contributions they have made to the community in the East Midlands.

The landmark exhibition will stay open until December 23.

People whose families made the traumatic journey donated hundreds of artefacts, memorabilia and photographs to the exhibition.

Leicester City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said he is pleased the museum recognises the struggles people faced.

He said: "It has been 50 years since thousands of Ugandan Asians came to the UK seeking a new life after being expelled by Idi Amin, and this exhibition really helps bring alive their stories to a new generation of people."

"The compelling first-hand stories of the upheaval of travelling halfway across the world with just a suitcase of belongings, along with personal items that people brought with them, really bring home the disruption and suffering of people forced to start life all over again."

"Sadly, many of these themes are just as relevant now as they were half a century ago," he adds.

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