Idi Ami’s deportation order for all Indians to exit Uganda within 90 days came as a total shock, instilling fear and anxiety, and causing worries regarding finances, the loss of properties, and the uprooting of all that was established by our parents through hard work over many decades.
The immediate priority was safety. The army was roaming the streets and the troops had started to target Indian women/young girls which was a major concern, so people wanted to leave in a hurry.
Many did not have valid passports and travel documents, resulting in long queues at the British High Commission in Kampala. Lot of families got separated and couldn’t travel together.
Our parents locked up the business and residential properties, leaving behind all belongings to Ugandan staff and charity organisations. Our car driver agreed to take our pet dog into his custody.
Our family left for the airport on 10th October 1972 with just a handful of suitcases. We were allowed to carry only £50 in cash. The scene at the airport was very scary with soldiers carrying guns. We felt very threatened.
The UK Government under Prime Minister Edward Heath welcomed UK passport-holders and their dependants as refugees through the Uganda Resettlement Board with compassion.
Everything was well prepared and we were housed at an RAF camp in Stradishall, Suffolk. The accommodation was very basic as we had to sleep in the army barracks, which were like dormitories with communal facilities. Winter clothing and warm bedding was provided.
One vivid memory is queuing up in the canteen for mashed potatoes, baked beans, and peas. The sadness on my parents’ faces was profound as they couldn’t eat the Gujarati food they loved and were used to.
The Hindu festival of Navratri took place in October and November at the camp site which brought a bit of joy on people’s faces, but it was extremely cold.
Our family of 7 people stayed at the refugee camp for about 5 weeks during which time I was offered the opportunity to go potato picking in a nearby farm. This was my first paid job in the UK, at 15 years old! I was also enrolled at a local school for a short period and found it very daunting as the curriculum and pace of teaching was very different to what I was used to.
Under the resettlement scheme, our family was offered a house in the new town of Corby in Northamptonshire. A local English family volunteered as our mentors and helped us settle down. They guided us through the education, welfare and employment systems.
Corby was a steel town with a high population of Scottish people, so we had to quickly get used to understanding their dialect. It took a long time to get used to the English weather and way of life.
Luckily. all the seven members of our family were together and resettled after extremely hard work and educational achievement. I have never returned to Uganda but have fond memories of that luscious and green country.