Ugandan Immigrants Arrive in London

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Ugandan Immigrants Arrive in London


By: Anonymous

Date: September 18, 1972

Source: Photo by Keystone/Getty Images.

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One of the largest groups of refugees ever to be accepted into the United Kingdom was the Ugandan Asians who were expelled from their country in 1972. Uganda is a country in East Africa which was ruled as a British protectorate from 1894 to 1962, when it achieved independence. At that time, Uganda had a substantial minority population of ethnic Gujaratis from the Indian sub-continent, who had enjoyed great success in the country as traders and businessmen.

When African countries such as Uganda gained their independence, they faced great difficulties in building up their economies and establishing new nations, and their small Asian communities were used as convenient scapegoats for all their problems. They were blamed, for example, for taking money out of the country in the form of remittances to their home countries, and for monopolizing business and restricting opportunities for African entrepreneurs.

During the 1960s a steady flow of Ugandan Asians migrated to Britain, taking advantage of the British citizenship that was extended to all Britain's New Commonwealth nationals under the 1948 British Nationality Act. Their migration to Britain in the early-to mid-1960s was also facilitated by the provisions of the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act that exempted all British citizens from immigration controls. However, in 1968, in response to concerns about rapidly rising immigration levels, the Labour government imposed new controls on British citizens from the New Commonwealth countries, which meant that they were not eligible to immigrate to Britain unless at least one of their parents or grandparents had been born or naturalized there. The Act was criticized by the European Commission on Human Rights as being racist and directed particularly at East African Asians fleeing victimization.

It was perhaps the widespread condemnation of their actions in 1968 that influenced the British government to act more favorably towards the Ugandan Asians in 1972. Military dictator Idi Amin (1925–2003) had taken control of the country under a coup in 1971, following which he carried out a census of Asians in Uganda and publicly accused them of economic misconduct and for 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. Around 23,000 were settled in other countries, such as Canada, while Britain took the remaining 27,000 or so, many of whom were destitute when they arrived in the country.

Because race relations were politically sensitive in Britain at this time, a Uganda Resettlement Board was set up with the purpose of dispersing the Ugandan Asian refugees away from existing centers of Asian settlement in Britain. However, this policy was unsuccessful, as most of the refugees gravitated towards areas in which they had a support network of relatives or friends. As a result, substantial East African Asian communities developed in areas of North London and the Midlands, especially Leicester. In total, around 103,588 East African Asians entered Britain, mainly from Uganda and Kenya, in the years up to 1973, but at this time immigration quotas were reinstated restricting the immigration of East African Asians to 5,000 per year.



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While the Ugandan economy suffered badly as a result of the expulsion of the Gujarati community, this group transplanted their entrepreneurial talents to Great Britain and the other countries in which they settled, and become one of the most highly successful ethnic minorities. Ugandan Asians in Britain have dominated certain sectors of the retail trade, prospered in a range of business activities, and have been instrumental in helping to regenerate inner city areas.

The 1972 Ugandan Asian crisis had a major adverse impact on the effectiveness of the 1971 Immigration Act, which had been intended to reduce immigration into Britain from its former colonies. The surge in East African Asian immigration was also a major factor in the growth at this time of support for the extreme right-wing National Front, who organized violent demonstrations against immigration and ethnic minorities throughout the 1970s. This in turn helped to drive a policy emphasis on race relations legislation which over time helped to improve the situation for ethnic minorities in the United Kingdom.



Spencer, Ian R. G. British Immigration Policy since 1939: The Making of Multi-Racial Britain. London and New York: Routledge, 1997.


Mattausch, John. "From Subjects to Citizens: British 'East African Asians'." Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (24) (1) (1988): 121-142.