18 September 1972: Ugandan refugees reach the UK

The first Ugandan refugees fleeing persecution in Idi Amin's Uganda arrived in Britain seeking new homes, on this day in 1972.

Ugandan Asian refugees arriving at Stansted Airport © P. Felix/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Some 30,000 refugees made the UK their home
(Image credit: © P. Felix/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In the 19th century 30,000 Indians were recruited by the British to help build a railway in Uganda. Around 2,500 workers died during construction of the "lunatic line". Most returned home once it was completed in 1901. However, around 6,000 stayed.

Their descendants dominated commerce and textiles, accounting for around 20% of Uganda's GDP. Their prosperity led to great resentment. In 1968, only six years after Ugandan independence, laws were passed to restrict the jobs that ethnic Indians could hold. Then, in 1971, Idi Amin seized power from Milton Obote in a military coup. Amin ratcheted up the anti-Indian propaganda, calling Indians "thieves".

In August 1972, Amin decided to expel all Asians, giving them 90 days to leave Uganda. Many Ugandan Asians had British citizenship, so expected to be able to move to the UK, and despite political pressure, including protests from far-right groups, then-prime minister Ted Heath allowed them to do so. Of the 80,000 expelled, 30,000 came to the UK, with the rest going to India, Canada and America. Due to existing connections many settled in Leicester, although the council ran newspaper advertisements urging them not to come.

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While they had lost most of their possessions and savings, the new arrivals were largely well educated. Many had management experience, and set up new firms in the UK, particularly in the textiles and jewellery sectors. Uganda itself fell into chaos and an estimated 500,000 people were killed before the mentally unstable Amin was forced into exile in 1979.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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