50 years to the day, Ugandan strongman and dictator – Idi Amin, proclaimed that Ugandan Asians had 90 days to leave the country. At a sweep, three to four generations of Ugandan Asians were made stateless and many looked to Britain to provide them with a safe place where they could resettle to.
My parents were two such people. Faiz Ahmed Mughal and Rafaat Sitara Mughal, left Uganda in August 1972. My mother was born in Mbale and her family had lived there for nearly 40 years. She used to speak to me of places such as Fort Portal, Jinja, Mbale and Kampala, reminiscing about the beauty, peace and strong cohesion between Asian communities in Uganda at the time.
My father told me of the possessions that were taken away from them, when they entered Entebbe airport, of the body searches that he endured and the disdain that Ugandan soldiers showed towards those exiting the country with them. This disdain had been whipped up by Amin who had publicly stated that Ugandan Asians ‘had milked the cow’ that had sustained them. Effectively, he blamed them for social policy failures that previous Governments and his were responsible for. We all know that when politicians fail, they blame others. However, Amin was not just any politician; he was a dangerous egotistical dictator, whose actions were to lead to more than 300,000 Ugandans dying because of his decisions.
Both my parents were proud people who had worked in professional jobs, my father – an electrical engineer and my mother – a teacher. Yet, when they sat in Entebbe, all they had in their pockets were 5 Ugandan Schillings, about 25 pence in today’s money. My father would tell me later in life that soldiers even tried to take away the bottle of milk that fed me, though some guards took pity and left me to suck on the rubber teat. I am pretty sure that as an 18 month old baby, I would have felt the fear, trauma and trepidation that my parents felt and which the environment gave off. It is this fear, trauma and trepidation that stayed with me far too long in my life. I am pretty sure it is something that filtered into many families in different shapes and form, never to be talked about or highlighted apart from within the closed recesses of the minds of those affected.
On landing in the U.K my parents were housed in RAF Stradishall, a military camp that saw action in the Second World War. My mother would tell me about how some of the Asian women were fed up of the food that was given to them so they got permission to cook dhals and curries in the camp kitchen, that made them feel that little bit closer to their cultural roots and give them a sense of grounding. As winter drew on, my father told me that he hated the dark nights and cold days and that the environment was one where he wanted to get back to Africa again. He felt an emotional ‘coldness’ in the U.K. that was then amplified by the physical cold of the environment.
Impacts of Trauma
Much is discussed about how successful Ugandan Asians have been in the U.K and this cannot be denied. Yet, these are a handful of stories of many that have included poverty, hard work, crises of identities and internalised traumas around safety and security which other British Asians of Ugandan heritage have felt.
Many subsequent generations of Ugandan Asians regard themselves as coming from ‘working class backgrounds’, of having to overcome racism and prejudice and of carrying a feeling of dislocation – a kind of wandering soul longing for something. The latter is what I felt for over 4 decades, and I have finally come to the conclusion that ‘home’ is where you have the people that love you. It is not so much a physical space, as a space where kindness, empathy, unconditional positive regard and care exist.
I remember the constant fear around security and personal safety that mother felt which was introjected into me. I felt her dislocation, something that affected my sense of identity and my sense of where ‘home’ was. Was I Asian, African, British or of Pakistani heritage?These were some of the thoughts that went through my head as I grew up. I saw her reminisce about Uganda, about how her most happiest moments were there and how life was hard in Britain, particularly when she arrived. I also learnt over many decades that I am made up of many identities, that I am Asian, African, British and someone who has longed for acceptance and a ‘place’. I look towards all of these identities, as having shaped my experiences, my drives and my passion to experience the pluralism that travel provides.
The most difficult emotional impacts of the dislocation from Uganda impacted on my mother’s sense of personal safety. This filtered towards us as children through the constant calls to check how we were, the acute fears that if we were not home on time then we must have been attacked, killed or harmed in some way. Then there was the constant checking on locks, windows and doors. It was a trauma pattern that had become exacerbated by the action of Amin and the traumatic ejection from Uganda. She was caught in a loop which never healed, of a psyche that felt unsafe.
So, 50 years on and in the coming months, we will hear much about the experiences of Ugandan Asians, their triumphs, their pain and the obstacles that they overcame. We will see successful businesspeople lay their success at what Britain gave them. No-one can deny that this country has given much to people of Ugandan Asian heritage like myself. Of that, there is no doubt. Yet, you will hear very little, in fact, next to nothing of the inter-generational impacts of the trauma of Amin’s expulsion, which lives on in many forms.
This is why, I am one of the very few British Asians of Ugandan heritage who is speaking about trauma and the legacy of Amin’s racism. Amin’s tentacles of hate must not reach another generation and one way of healing, is to talk about the impacts of trauma on the emotional and mental health well-being of British Asians of Ugandan heritage. I will keep speaking so that others can feel that they have a space in which to discuss these issues. Healing only comes about by shining a light on the darkness. In this case, there is much that rests in the dark spaces that Amin created.
Fiyaz Mughal is the Founder of Faith Matters which has been supported by the Heritage Lottery to capture the refugee experiences of Ugandan Asians and the impacts that the dislocation had on their emotional and mental health and well-being. His family were expelled by Amin in 1972 and he was 18 months old when he arrived in the U.K. to be housed at RAF Stradishall.
If you want to talk about your experiences or if you are a child of those who arrived from Uganda in 1972, or if you are one of the first arrivals, get in touch via the ‘From East to West’ project on firstname.lastname@example.org.