Uganda 50: What it was like to flee Uganda and make a new life In Birmingham

This month marks an important milestone for South Asians from Uganda, because it's 50 years since the brutal dictator President Idi Amin ordered them to leave. They were given 90 days to go or face the consequences.

Around thirty thousand Asians arrived in Britain in 1972. Among them were my husband's family who decided to settle in Birmingham.

While my husband was born here, his parents and all his siblings - three sisters and one brother - had only ever known Uganda as home.

And now 50 years on, my mother-in-law Khatija and my two sisters-in-law, Fatema and Haki, who were just 10 and nine at the time sat down with me to tell me the whole story.

Khatija smiles as she tells me about Uganda. "Everybody is mixing, we all celebrated every event together. I got married when I was 15 and my neighbour helped me. I have very happy memories of Uganda."

When Idi Amin told Asians they had to go, the family's immediation reaction was that as Ugandan citizens they weren't going anywhere.

The family on a day out at Murchison Falls National Park, the Christmas before expulsion Credit: Khatija Kapasi

But Amin was given false information that my father-in-law was plotting to overthrow him and sent the Army round to the house.

"They sat in the chair and said: 'Where is your husband?' I said: 'I don't know'. I hid these two (Haki and Fatema) in the kitchen. Then they got a telephone call and they left."

Fatema recalls: "While my Dad was entrenched in staying my mum was preparing for us to leave, sending things that meant something to her that she worried she couldn't replace, like a silver jug for water and her vacuum cleaner though the post to an auntie who lived in Leicester. 

"And she began making us blanket coats because she knew how cold it was in the UK after visiting in the sixties."

Haki spoke of the moment they left the only home she'd ever known. "Actually getting in the car and leaving, I wasn't really processing. I was just going with the flow and my cousin was crying. I could see her on the street crying. I didn't know why she was crying but because she was, I just started crying too."

Their arrival in the UK was a difficult one. Fatema remembers clearly what they were told on the coach from the airport.

"They gave us a talk. I remember the guy holding up a newspaper and saying: 'These are the racial incidents in Leicester. They don't want you in Leicester, they don't want you in London and they don't want you in Birmingham. So don't go to those three cities'. And that was the first day of our arrival here in the UK."

Despite the warning, after short stay in a refugee camp and in Leicester, the family decided to settle in Birmingham. My father-in-law, Fazlehusein, who died two years ago, had run a car parts businesss in Uganda - he wanted to set up something similar here and with the city being at the heart of the automotive industry, it seemed the obvious place.

Finding somewhere to live was difficult and they finally settled in Northfield in the south of Birmingham, not realising how much they would stick out.

I took them back to the street where they first lived.

As we walked past their old house, Haki said to me: "It's not a nice experience. My stomach was just going round because it doesn't bring back very nice memories, to be honest. So I try to avoid coming here."

She said for her, returning to Northfield was more difficult than when she first returned to Uganda for the first time as an adult.

Standing on the street close to the school they attended as children, Fatema shared: "My memories are that we were the only Asian girls throughout my school career. It wasn't even just the first two years. Right from the time I started school to the time I left school, we were the only ones."

Haki remembered how people in the area reacted to them. "We were different. We spoke a different language, we had a different religion. Our food was different. Everything about us was different. And it was within the backdrop of wider media, so before they even knew us, there were a lot of assumptions about us.

Fatema and Haki today back on the street in Northfield where they first lived after arriving in Birmingham from Uganda Credit: Khatija Kapasi

"Our neighbours were retired and they'd never experienced Asian people, people of colour. They told my parents that the woman, she had lost a stone-and-a-half because she was so worried about us moving next door.

"I remember the husband knocking on the door, having a conversation with Dad, and he asked Dad if he could keep his children indoors. And not have us play in the garden.

"And Dad said: 'No, this is my house and my kids will go wherever they want'."

Despite the difficulties my father-in-law achieved his goal of setting up a successful car parts shop.

Situated in Lozells in Birmingham, the family worked long hours to ensure the business did well. But one day in September 1985, soon after they'd arrived home after locking up for the evening, my mother-in-law turned on the TV and saw the area she'd just left was burning.

On the screen she watched the Handsworth Riots unfold.

Around 45 shops and businesses were looted that night and set on fire including the family's shop.

Two police officers survey the devastation the morning after the Handsworth riots Credit: PA

Khatija remembers:"It was such a difficult time for us. We had worked so hard and then everything had gone in just one night."

Fatema described the loss of the shop as 'like a bereavement with so many people coming to the house to offer their commiserations'

Haki said the family will never forget the generosity of the community with one couple even offering to solve their gold jewellery to help out.

It took six years to rebuild and reopen the shop, partly because my father-in-law who became the Chairman of the Lozells Traders' Association, insisted on helping all the other businesses on the street get back on their feet before he too returned.

My father-in-law Fazlehusein Kapasi in the family's car parts shop in Lozells in 2012 Credit: ITV Central

As the business finally got back on track and the years passed the family's thoughts turned to returning to Uganda for a visit. Their departure had been traumatic but with Amin no longer in power they were keen to return.

For Haki, who went back for a week in 1999 and had always dreamt of a permanent return, it made her realise something.

"I had always thought I'd like to go back and set up some kind of childcare project there. While I was there, I was in a bookshop and I picked up a book which was like a photo diary of Amin's time in power and when the army was there. And there were some horrific pictures in that book. I was going to buy it but some of the pictures in it were so horrible, I didn't.

"Then as we were on our way to the airport a community member said to me: 'See that piece of land there, every day Amin's men used to line up men and shoot them and that's what we saw every day'.

"And after that it was the first time in my life I thought I'm so glad that we'd left Uganda because if we hadn't Dad would be dead, and who know what horrors we'd have seen.

"And it was then that I mentally left Uganda."

As for their car spares shop in Lozells, it's still going strong  with my mother-in-law who's 80 this year still behind the counter.

My mother-in-law still works on the counter at the family's car spares shop Credit: ITV Central

They were keen to tell their story 50 years on to share it with their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who have only ever known Birmingham as home.

Read more:

Educating the next generation about the explusion of Asians from Uganda

Tracking down one woman who arrived in the Midlands from Uganda from a 50-year-old airport photo