Ugandan Asians

My Lords, I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, and I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Popat for calling it and for his excellent speech. That is not least because members of my family were among the 28,000 Ugandan Asians who came to the United Kingdom in the 1970s. Thus, the personal resonance of this subject for me holds no bounds.

I also believe that this 40th anniversary provides us with an opportunity properly to reflect on just how significant a part this movement has played in the cultural and social development of the UK, and how much better off we all are because of it. Ultimately, the UK gave asylum to around half of those exiled from Uganda, including many from a cross-section of different religions. Such a considerable and complex movement of people brings with it personal stories of triumph and turmoil.

My father originally came to Uganda in the 1920s and quickly carved out a name for himself in a wide range of industries including cotton, hides and skins, coffee and property. He was president of the Indian association in our home town for more than 30 years and represented all the communities of Asian origin. He also helped to pioneer the Ugandan education system, benefiting thousands of children. He can be described as a man of vision, an entrepreneur and a philanthropist. He died in the 1960s, before my family were expelled the following decade, but I had already learnt much that has inspired me to do well in this country.

I brought that hunger and enthusiasm with me when I came to this country. This culture is typical of many other Asians who came here from Uganda. Although the ancestors many of the Indian families were originally brought over in the 19th century to help build the railway system, they had since become successful in businesses and professions. The community prospered in every walk of life. By the 1970s, they were the backbone of Ugandan economy. There was peace and harmony between people of various religions and racial origins in Uganda. When the Asians were expelled, their properties, businesses and almost everything else was taken from them by Idi Amin and his Government. As such, they arrived on British shores completely penniless. General Amin took everything from us except our knowledge and what we had in our heads.

I think that I speak for most, if not all, of those who came to this country during this time when I express my gratitude for Prime Minister Edward Heath’s honourable decision to allow those of us with British passports to settle here. Others went to places such as Canada, Australia and Europe, but I am grateful that my family was able to come and enjoy the opportunities that the UK provided to us and thousands of others. Upon their arrival, many Ugandan Asians were able to open corner shops and other small family businesses that proved to be highly successful in serving the needs of local communities. Many of them also took jobs in various sectors. This provided them with a solid base on which to raise their families and rebuild their lives.

The children of those families have since grown up and been educated here in the UK, serving only to advance their family lines through the high quality of learning that we so celebrate in this country. While some have taken over the family corner shop or followed in their mother’s or father’s footsteps, others have moved into different professions that in many cases were not accessible to their parents.

Today, the sons and daughters of Ugandan Asians are visible in every walk of life, from medicine to banking and from writing to manufacturing. They make valuable contributions to our workforce, pay their taxes and help us to compete on the international stage. It should also be noted that the crime rate among this community is very low. Their influence can even be felt in this very House; I know that my colleagues, the noble Lord, Lord Popat, and the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, share my proud heritage, as do Shailesh Vara and Priti Patel in the House of Commons.

Perhaps the most notable example of where Ugandan Asians have thrived as a community is in Leicester and in the London Borough of Harrow, where, despite much resistance at the time, a number of the immigrants chose to settle. In the short term they helped to breathe new life into the economy of these areas, mainly through regenerating the manufacturing base and establishing new businesses.

There are many specific examples of individuals and families who have thrived and become successful in their own right upon coming to the United Kingdom. I should like to mention the inspirational example of a good friend of mine, Mr Jaffer Kapasi, who was one of those who moved to Leicester in 1972. He arrived in the United Kingdom at the age of 22 with nothing. After university, he trained as an accountant and, several years later, set up his own business. He chaired a housing association for elderly and vulnerable people in the Midlands. When he took over the chairmanship in 1992, the association had 280 homes, and when he stepped down last year it had 1,900. He was awarded an OBE in 1997 for services to business in Leicestershire. This year, the Meiji University in Tokyo published his life story and I highly recommend that noble Lords read it.

The contributions of Ugandan Asians to the United Kingdom can be acknowledged on many levels and in many circles-economic, cultural, social and professional. It is a testament to how homogeneous a community they are that they have integrated so well into the British way of life. Wherever they have gone, they have earned respect, maintained a strong work ethic and forged successful relationships with other communities.

This is a land of opportunity and tolerance, and we have always found the environment highly conducive to success. These qualities have allowed the Ugandan Asian community to flourish and, in turn, its members have served only to enrich our society further. I believe that this anniversary should remind us of the opportunities that there have been for members of that community to live well and flourish.

Uganda’s loss truly has been Britain’s gain. The Asian community that came here and its future generations will, I believe, be good British citizens and help in the advancement and well-being of this great nation. Thank you, Britain, for accepting us when we arrived here. You have certainly lived up to the name “Great Britain”.

Updated: 21/12/2012 — 12:46 PM