40th Anniversary for Ugandan Asian refugees in Wales

North Wales army camp at Tonfanau, which was home for the expelled Ugandan Asians in the 1970s Credit: ITV Wales News

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.

Life-time friendships were created in Tonfanau, small acts of kindness helped people rebuild their lives Credit: ITV News Wales

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.

With the station, the ugandan asians were able to go onto the train and go wherever they wanted. Credit: ITV News Wales

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


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.

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.