Building the Ugandan Asian Archive A Portrait Series

This registry is a record of everyone that flew on Canadian charters from Entebbe to Longue Pointe during the 90-day expulsion period where Ugandan Asians were ordered to leave the country in 1972. Milton and Val Carrasco acquired the logbook from a family friend who helped Val and her sister settle into Canada after they arrived from Uganda. The Carrascos donated it to the Ugandan Asian Archive at Carleton University.

Milton and Val Carrasco

The archive at Carleton University features hundreds of clippings from the period before and after expulsion, along with oral histories, passports, video recordings, and a memoir from the Canadian immigration team in Kampala in 1972.

The archive was featured at gatherings in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, and Calgary where hundreds reviewed highlights from the collection and shared their stories.

Carleton University is working diligently to capture the experiences of those connected to the 1972 expulsion of Ugandan Asians.

Canada was one of the first countries to respond to the crisis. This portrait series is testimony to the importance of the archival collection.

The success of the Asian community and its status as a visible minority made it an easy and frequent target for resentment and scapegoating in Uganda. The crisis began in earnest on August 4, 1972, when president Idi Amin - claiming that God had spoken to him in his sleep - ordered the country's Ugandan Asians to depart within 90 days. A campaign of fear and intimidation followed Amin's announcement.

Ugandan Asians were suddenly stateless - their Ugandan citizenship having been arbritrarily revoked - and suffered a mood of disbelief, despair, and desperation. Canada, under the leadership of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, offered members of the community "an honourable place" in our society and 6,000 visas were issued in September and October of 1972.

The event marked a radical shift in this country's immigration policy. For the first time, large numbers of non-Christian, non-European immigrants were allowed into the country. The Ugandan Asian Archive Collection captures this incredible story.

Meet the people connected to the archive.

Nizar Fakirani

Our family was part of the 70,000-plus Asian community in Uganda, most of whom had been in Uganda for three or four generations.

Traumatic as the experience was, I have yet to meet one Ugandan Asian who has regrets about coming to Canada. Canada has given us an environment of opportunity, freedom, tolerance, and respect.

We’ve recently experienced another wave of refugees, this time from Syria. The lessons learned from the Ugandan Asian experience become more relevant and instructive with time.

It is the story of this transition and this experience that the collection seeks to capture and preserve and to make available to scholars, policy-makers, and future generations wishing to learn from these experiences.

Nizar Fakirani is a Toronto-based lawyer. He and his family helped launch the Ugandan Asian Archive in 2014. They created a study room in Carleton University’s library in memory of their parents, Hassanali and Sakinabai Fakirani.

A clipping from the Ugandan Asian Archive Collection. The collection also contains hundreds of clippings from Ugandan newspapers donated by Wayne Bennett who was a cooperant in Uganda in the early 1970s. The newspaper clippings were originally given to the Canadian Immigration Historical Society, which arranged for them to be formally donated to Carleton University. Find more news stories like this via arc.library.carleton.ca.

Senator Mobina Jaffer

As a girl in Uganda, I was given self-esteem and stature in our Ismaili community. I was given the best education in the Aga Khan kindergarten, primary, and secondary schools.

The education there allowed me to become a lawyer and to graduate from one of the best law schools in the world.

I am a proud Muslim and was taught the importance of living in a pluralistic society. I cannot thank his highness, the Aga Khan, enough for emphasizing the rights and equality of girls and boys.

They say if you drink the water of the River Nile, you always return. Many of us have returned and many of us for a long time have not felt that charitable toward Uganda after having been forcibly deported.

My father always said to me, ‘Don’t think it was Ugandans that threw you out. It was always just one man.’ We were the lucky ones. Those who were left behind suffered many wars. Ugandans are still our brothers and sisters and always will be.

Senator Mobina Jaffer, Q.C., represents the province of British Columbia in the Senate of Canada, where she is deputy-chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. She is the first Muslim senator, the first African-born senator, and the first senator of South Asian descent.

A clipping from the Globe and Mail, August 15, 1972. Paul Hempel began to collect newspaper clippings from the Canadian, American, and British press, documenting the Ugandan refugee crisis. Mary-Ellen Hempel, his spouse, went to Uganda as the first of three secretaries sent to Kampala to type the visas of Canada-bound refugees in September 1972. See more clippings at arc.library.carleton.ca.

Yasmin B. Jamal

When I went to visit India for the first time six years ago, I had no knowledge of my father’s family roots, or how he migrated to Kenya. This is when the idea of collecting oral histories from Ugandans was born. Three years later, my research took shape and flourished on the shores of Lake Okanagan in Kelowna.

Through qualitative research, I am capturing the pre- and post-migration stories of Ugandan Asian refugees who came to Canada in 1972. I am researching their settlement patterns, employment, and adaptations in a new country.

Many of these refugees are now in their 60, 70s, and 80s and I fear that they will pass away without leaving behind their migration stories. This is why I am conducting this project, to preserve the history for their children and grandchildren.

I am not Ugandan, but I was indirectly affected by this expulsion. At the time, I was a first-year student at the Nairobi University. My brother, who resided in Uganda, witnessed some of the atrocities, especially ones committed on young girls. He insisted I leave Kenya and study abroad.

I applied and was accepted at Leeds University to pursue my undergraduate studies. Before settling down in Leeds, I came to visit my sister in Vancouver who suggested I apply to universities in Canada. I fell in love with Vancouver! I was accepted at Simon Fraser University. This is the short version of my personal migration story.

In my research, I unravel the memories of the Ugandans who settled in Canada. I attempt to capture the important moments in their lives in Uganda and Canada.

Yasmin B. Jamal is a librarian at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Burnaby Public Library in Greater Vancouver, British Columbia.

A clipping from October 10, 1972, part of The Ugandan Asian Archive exhibit, available at arc.library.carleton.ca.

John Halani

I came to Canada through Montreal in 1972. It was a difficult time, but the move to Canada made us all grateful. The government of the time allowed us to settle in this country. We’ll continue to play a role as Ugandans and as Canadians by contributing to our community.

I was appointed consul in 1996, and my first job was to discover how I could be of service to Uganda. I started working with institutions for women, hospitals, and children. Over the last 10 years, I’ve worked on more than 20 projects in Uganda and in Masaka District in conjunction with Douglas College in New Westminster. I hope to do more.

I took groups of doctors there in 1998 and again in 2005 to work on maternal mortality. In 2017, we will mark 45 years since our settlement in Canada and are working on celebration plans.

John Halani is the Honourary Consul of Uganda in British Columbia.

"The benefits of an understanding society go far beyond mere acquiescence or a neutral kind of acceptance to others." Then prime minister Pierre Trudeau said in response to repeated questioning on radio hotline shows about Ugandan Asians coming to Canada.

Mike Molloy

Our instructions, originally, were to use the point system to screen an initial goal of 3,000 people. Our team leader, Roger St. Vincent, would phone back to Ottawa to report what we had seen that day offering our perceptions of the political situation.

Six days after we started, Cabinet met for a second time and told us to pull out all the stops. This is now a humanitarian effort. Process as many as you can. The three thousand limit was off and we were told to use our discretionary authority to approve people outside of the points system, especially if they had nowhere else to go.

Molloy, at right, in 1972 with team leader Roger St. Vincent, at left, and secretary Jolene Carrier, second from right, handing out the first visa to Semin Murodali Kassam.

A few weeks later, the security situation had gone to hell. We had to close down one day when the military came by the street and scared the living daylights out of everybody, including me. We were scared because we didn’t know what would happen next. There was a lot violence; people were brought out to watch their neighbours being tortured and murdered. We had at least one case where a young man had been brought to us. His brother had been murdered the day before. We got him on a flight the next day.

I have stayed in touch with many people who came from Uganda and a real sense of family has developed since then. It’s a never-ending source of amazement to me that now, four decades after the event, it is still swirling in and out of my life.

There is now an intergenerational dialogue going on. Younger people want to know the experience of their parents’ or grandparents’ generation. There are two PhDs being done on this as we stand, and people are collecting oral histories from Ugandans right across the country. This is a great story to keep telling, because it shows how everybody wins when we reach out to refugees.

Mike Molloy, former ambassador of Canada to Jordan, was second in command of the Canadian team sent to Kampala in 1972.

From the Ottawa Citizen, September 1972. "The Indians who are chosen to come to Canada will have much to offer if people will only meet them halfway."

Shezan Muhammedi

My mother was 17 when she arrived in October of 1972 as a refugee from Uganda with her mother and two younger brothers. She put both her younger brothers through school and provided for my grandmother as she attended ESL classes and secured a factory job.

Beyond these accomplishments, she managed to raise three boys who have come of age in Canada. Her resiliency led me to study how other Ugandan Asian refugees adjusted to life in Canada.

I quickly discovered that although this represented Canada's first major resettlement of non-European refugees, there were no dedicated studies on Ugandan Asian refugees within our nation's history. I did not see myself or many other immigrant families in high school history textbooks.

This motivated me to dedicate my life to finding engaging and innovative ways to emphasize pluralistic values within Canada.

As we continue to live in an era with growing numbers of displaced peoples, it is imperative to explore the rich history of Canadian refugee resettlement as a means of reminding Canadians of our successes and failures within the resettlement process. Ultimately, this will reiterate our previous commitment to the Canadian value of humanitarianism.

Ugandan Asian refugees represent a unique moment in Canadian history when Canada resettled approximately 8,000 Ugandan Asians between 1972 and 1974. As Adrienne Clarkson mentioned in one of her recent works, the refugees from Uganda were "a present from Idi Amin to Canada." Then-prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau announced that Canadians were prepared to "create an honourable place in Canadian life" for Ugandan Asians.

It is time that we acknowledge their innumerable contributions to Canadian society within our diverse and multicultural history.

By writing an inclusive history of Ugandan Asian refugees and including more than 50 oral interviews, I hope to honour this community and the legacy of all Canadian immigrants and refugees.

Shezan Muhammedi is the Research Adviser and Oral Historian for the Ugandan Asian Archives at Carleton University. He is a PhD candidate in History, Migration, and Ethnic Relations at Western University.

A profile of Uganda from National Geographic, November 1971. Part of the archive.

Fateema Sayani

Both of my parents were living in Uganda in the early 1970s, my father was born in Soroti and my mom was born just outside of Boston. Growing up, we had portraits of family members overlooking the district from the famous Soroti Rock and, as kids, always heard stories about the beauty of the country.

As we got older and more curious, we were keen to know more about the political situation. My parents, aunts, and uncles were somewhat reluctant to recall the violence and so we would gather the story in fragments over the years.

My father, a physician, was proud to have been able to return to East Africa over the years to teach doctors there about contemporary surgical techniques. He had been eager to give back.

I work on online editorial initiatives, such as this one, at Carleton University and was happy to see the archive come together for the next generation, including my own children. Seeing the Fakirani family lead the charge in getting the archive organized in one spot has been wonderful. Seeing people come up to Mike Molloy, decades later, and thank him for getting them out of a dire situation is heartwarming.

Fateema Sayani is an editor at Carleton University and a master’s candidate in the School of Public Policy.

A clipping from the archive details the mood of the time and the speed at which Canadian officials had to respond.
Photographed by Ben Nelms on location: Ugandan Asian Archive Tour. Vancouver, British Columbia, April 2016. Additional photos by Jessica Deeks, Ottawa, Ontario, August 2016. Story production by Fateema Sayani.

Here for Good is the philanthropic promise, the founding ethos, and the uniting principle at Carleton University. Our institution was founded in 1942 to provide opportunity to the young people of Ottawa and to serve the broader region and its citizens. These stories reflect the greater good of society in Ottawa - and around the world. As we prepare to move into the next 75 years, we have launched Collaborate: The Carleton University Campaign, the most ambitious fundraising effort in Carleton's history.

Together we can contribute more to the good of society, its economy and institutions, and the health and wellbeing of citizens around the world. If you share our conviction that there is much good to be done, we hope you will join us.

The Uganda Collection received a Canadian Premier International Education Award in 2016.

This portrait series received a Gold Award from The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (known as CASE) in 2017.

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