In August 1972, tens of thousands of Asian Ugandans were suddenly told they had to leave the country.
They had 90 days to pack up and find somewhere else to go, a forced displacement ordered by President Idi Amin the year after he came to power in a military coup.
Among those trying to leave the country were the parents of CTV News national affairs correspondent Omar Sachedina.
This month, ahead of the 50th anniversary of that exodus, he visited Uganda with his mother to see where his family once lived.
“They talked about Uganda often enough and they always remembered it as a very idyllic country where there was a soft, gentle breeze in the summer, where there were mango trees,” he said, speaking to CTV’s Your Morning on Monday from Jinja, Uganda.
“And they really talked about it so fondly, except for that time in August 1972 when the Asians – meaning people from India, Pakistan, who, by the way, had been in this country for several generations – were forced to leave. “
Amin ordered the expulsion of all Ugandans of South Asian descent in 1972 amid a cloud of anti-Indian sentiment, accusing the country’s Asian community of disloyalty and sabotaging the economy by controlling the country’s wealth.
These tensions stemmed from the British Empire’s colonial rule over Uganda, during which the British often elevated Asian Ugandans to higher positions than black Ugandans, leading to considerable social stratification. By the time Uganda achieved independence in 1962, the Asian community formed the backbone of the country’s economy, but this economic success made it a target for vilification. Idi Amin wanted to give more power, wealth and opportunities to black Ugandans.
Initially, only those who did not obtain citizenship after Uganda became independent were included in the departure order, but it quickly became clear that almost all Asian Ugandans were forced to leave their homes and out of the country. There were 80,000 affected in 1972.
“You can only imagine what it was like, after settling and spending generations in this country, they were only given three months to pack their belongings,” Sachedina said. “There are simply horror stories of people going through checkpoints from the capital Kampala to the airport […] in some cases the jewelry is completely torn from their hands, they cannot take much of their belongings and [having to] Start from scratch.”
The world community reacted with shock, but when it realized that the order was serious and would be carried out, many countries opened their doors to those who were expelled.
One of the first countries to act was Canada, which took in at least 6,000 Asian refugees from Uganda between 1972 and 1974. This was the first large group of refugees Canada took in after expanding its refugee program outside of Europe in 1970. and the move was widely hailed as a success. Many of those who arrived in Canada spoke English and were matched with jobs that matched their skills, making their transition easier
Sachedina’s father came to Canada during the initial wave of refugees and his mother lived in Britain shortly before Canada.
He described their trip to Canada as “a very bittersweet moment.”
“My parents had never even seen snow before they arrived [Canada],” he added.
Despite Canada’s large role in helping Asian Ugandans who were forced to leave, for many Canadians this is an untold story. Sachedina added that he never learned about it in school growing up — he only knew it happened because of the stories his parents told him.
Being able to travel back to Uganda with his mother — his father passed away a few years ago — was “so precious,” he said, noting that while it’s a very personal story he’s been working on for the past decade, “it’s a story that which in some way belongs to every single Canadian.
Sachedina’s journey to learn more about not only her family history, but other Canadian immigrants expelled from Uganda, will be released in an exclusive W5 documentary this October.