Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 October 2014, 16:03 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - United Kingdom : East African Asians

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - United Kingdom : East African Asians, 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49749c8f1c.html [accessed 23 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Profile

East African Asians include Gujaratis and Punjabis who had migrated from the Indian subcontinent to Africa and then from Africa to the UK. They include Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. Some are Ismaili Muslims, a Shi'a denomination, whose spiritual leader is the Aga Khan. There are some Jains and Zoroastrians. Between 1968 and 1974, the main immigration period, over 70,000 Kenyan and Ugandan Asians arrived in Britain.

East African Asians are not distinguished from other people from the Indian subcontinent in official figures.


Historical context

British rule in East Africa enhanced the position of Gujarati entrepreneurs who had operated there for centuries, and also introduced a large, though mainly temporary, population of Punjabi labourers. Following Ugandan independence from Britain in 1962 and Kenyan independence in 1963, the governments introduced 'Africanization' policies. The wealthy Asian middle class, who had lived to some extent like the colonial hierarchy, were an obvious target. Around 50,000 of the 80,000 Asians living in Uganda opted for British rather than Ugandan citizenship. During the 1960s thousands of Asian families from East Africa migrated to Britain. Although they had been prosperous business and property owners, those that left Kenya in the late 1960s were unable to bring much of their wealth with them. In Britain they lived in poor-quality housing and obtained low-paid work. They also found their British status did not allow them to enter Britain freely.

The 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act subjected Commonwealth citizens to immigration controls for the first time. Alarmed by the influx of East African Asians, the British government tightened controls in 1968, requiring immigrants to show a close connection with the UK. In 1972 immigrants had to obtain work permits unless their parents or grandparents were born in the UK

In 1972 General Amin ordered all Asians out of Uganda, and some 28,600 out of the 50,000 British passport holders came to Britain, drawn from a variety of social classes and age groups. Many were highly successful business people and brought with them qualifications and capital that enabled them to succeed despite the constraints of racism and discrimination.

Some East African Asians invested in small general grocery and newsagent shops, which they ran as family businesses. They gave a new lease of life to the traditional community corner shop in the large cities, many of which had closed because of increasing competition from supermarkets. Others studied and worked hard, and saved capital to invest in manufacturing and trading businesses on a larger scale.


Current issues

East African Asians have improved their living standards and educational qualifications more than other new minorities from the Indian subcontinent. A large number are in the retail distribution sector running family-owned shops. Others have become professionals in the media, law, medicine, business consultancy, etc. Several have set up multi-million-pound businesses operating on a global scale. The community has faced racial discrimination from the start. Those of the Muslim faith now have to cope with the heightened tensions between Christians and Muslims following the events of September 2001.

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