Your Member of Parliament for Harrow East

Andrew Percy MP

Ugandan Asians in Britain

The House of Commons held a debate to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Ugandan Asians arrivial in the UK. Bob spoke in the debate, praising the contribution that they have made to British life in that time. 


I grew up in Wembley, and I well remember being at school in the autumn of 1972 when some very young, bewildered and bedraggled individuals suddenly arrived. They did not talk about what had happened to them. They were dressed in second-hand clothes. They spoke brilliant English. Indeed, their English was far better than that of most of the people already at the school. They had clearly had a great education when they arrived, but they did not say much about their experiences. However, as the autumn turned into winter, they found themselves in rather a different environment from the one they had known before.


Those people changed our neighbourhood. We had always had a multi-racial community in Wembley, but it had consisted mostly of what we would now call white UK citizens and West Indians. To that melting pot was added a new group of people. They brought with them wonderful exotic food that none of us had ever experienced before. We became friends with them, but when we visited their houses, we found that they were very different from ours. Every room was used as a bedroom: the kitchen, the dining room, even the bathroom. They lived in a very different environment from that of the rest of us who lived in the area.


It was difficult for many of those families to combat the prejudice that they encountered on a daily basis. We should remember the hatred that was shown towards those people who had arrived in this country, through no fault of their own, wanting a much better life. When I think back to conversations that I had with peoplewho are now family friends, I realise what they went through. They did not talk about it at the time. They also did not talk about their background in Uganda, which we should remember was a British colony between 1894 and 1962, when it was given its independence by a Conservative Government. It was then set up and run as a modern, democratic country. The people we now call Ugandan Asians controlled 90% of the business in Uganda at the time. They were driving the economy of the country forward and making commerce a reality for a whole spectrum of people.


Then, sadly, Idi Amin came to power. We should remember what kind of person he was. He called those people who were bringing prosperity to Uganda "bloodsuckers". He labelled them "dukawallahs", casting a deliberate slur on people who were of a slightly different ethnic origin. He encouraged the troops to engage in theft and physical assault on the people who were running the country's commerce. He encouraged them to use sexual violence, particularly against women, with impunity, and the people who did this were never punished. He then pronounced, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire mentioned, that he was going to expel every single Asian who held a British passport.

After the expulsion, all those businesses were handed over to Idi Amin's supporters. It is interesting to note that the economy went to rack and ruin as a result of his deliberate decision to force the people who were generating the economy out of that country. Of the people expelled, Britain took around 27,200 citizens arriving in this country; 6,000 went to Canada; only 4,500 ended up in India; and 2,500 went to Kenya to continue their lives in east Africa. Some 5,655 firms in Uganda, along with ranches, farms and agricultural estates, were all reallocated—taken from the people who owned them and ran them for the benefit of the local economy. They were reallocated on an ad hoc basis to the people who had forced them out. Cars, homes, household goods, clothes and worldly possessions were all just passed over.


Let us imagine the scenario of what happened to those poor people, and then what happened here. We have already heard that in this very Chamber people said, "We don't want them here." Councils up and down the country said "We don't want them here." The British dockers and the trade unions tried to stop people who were British citizens from coming here. If the people who did that are still alive, they should apologise for their hatred towards those British people.


It would have been natural for many of the people arriving to feel sorry for themselves and to think, "Our life has ended; what are we in now?" Their reaction, however, was not to rely on the state. They needed some help, of course, but they did not rely on the state. They had existed in Uganda by their own commerce and their own activities, so they set about starting their own businesses in corner shops, seeing the opportunities that Britain offered. They set about employing people, getting loans from the banks where they could, and setting up new industries—and they thrived. After all, these people who arrived some 40 years ago have at their heart the very British view of wanting to work for a living and not rely on the state. They believed in the extendedfamily looking after one another, and looking after the elderly and the young ones—encapsulating everything that is good about Britain.


Forty years on, we are now seeing the third or possibly fourth generation of individuals who came to this country. They are leaders in business and commerce, they are great employers, and they generate valuable resources for this country. They have brought other things, too. We have in this country some of the greatest temples outside India, and they have been built by the people who were expelled from Uganda and other parts of east Africa. I am proud to be associated with many of those temples, and encourage people to celebrate their religion. Of course, these are often the people who most believe in law and order. There are fewer Hindus in our prisons than people of any other religion. They believe in law and order, they obey this country's rules and they swear allegiance to the Queen and everything we hold dear.


As for education, these families all wanted better for their children, and it is unusual to find such a family that does not have within its ranks a doctor, dentist, lawyer, accountant or other professional. I well remember that what they brought to my school and my area was their cultural roots and their celebrations of their culture. They still celebrate those things today—and quite rightly, too. They also assisted our sporting legacy. Indeed, at my school, our hockey team dramatically improved when they arrived, as did the cricket team. It is true that we can still celebrate that contribution today.


In my constituency today, 40% of the residents have a heritage stemming from Gujarat, from east Africa or from Uganda in particular. In this melting pot of an area in Harrow, people live in peace and harmony. They celebrate their religion; they celebrate their culture; they celebrate their background. The people who came here have generated business, commerce and wealth for this country and for their families, and they have established a heritage here, which we celebrate. Their belief in family values and law and order is an example to us all. I think we can truly say that Uganda's loss was Britain's gain.


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