Friday, 23 October 2020

Black History Month - Helping Ugandan Asian refugees in 1972

For Black History Month, we are highlighting the great work done at a national level by Citizens Advice in the past.  The following article was originally published in 2018 by Sue Edwards of Citizens Advice national office.

In August 1972, General Idi Amin, the then president of Uganda, ordered the expulsion of the Asian minority population of Uganda. As many were British citizens, Idi Amin insisted that the UK Government help him with the expulsion. In the end about 30,000 came to the UK.

We were asked to help meet planeloads of refugees at Stansted Airport to help them with documentation and ensure that they had a roof over their head. The first flight, which arrived on 17 September 1972, was full of people who had been subjected to harassment, maltreatment and theft on the way to Entebbe airport. They were in a state of shock when they landed.

During the first days over half of the refugees arrived with the intention of proceeding to private destinations and the CAB teams had to find out whether families could be collected, if they had enough money for fares and enough English to enable them to travel independently. Most of the planes arrived in the early hours of the morning and many of them were full of people who were in a state of shock, so it was hard and stressful work.

For example,CAB workers had to meet people from a plane which had been loaded with passengers and luggage at Entebbe when the Ugandan authorities objected to something concerning the last family who should have joined the flight. All the passengers and luggage were taken off the plane and searched again with consequent delay. On another occasion the women and children were all put on one plane and the men were held and then put on a second plane, with the result that the women were completely hysterical with fear on their arrival.

One of the CAB workers who helped at Stansted said, "These were people who had been frightened and intimidated, lost their homes and possessions, often their businesses and livelihoods, many even told of being stripped of their personal jewelry. We tried to make the bureaucratic process as human and as friendly as possible - just CAB on a large and concentrated scale.”

Many refugees ended up in resettlement camps where other CAB workers were involved when they arrived. CAB workers in camps in Lincolnshire found most urgent need was for maps. “These people had been snatched from their homes, transported across continents, bundled into coaches and trains, and now they wanted to know where they were!” British Rail supplied rail maps - useful for workers to point out relative position of camps and where their relatives might be living.