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Hong Kong refugees set to follow illustrious path


By Charlotte Coulson, Account Director

“We will meet our obligations, not walk away”. So said Boris Johnson earlier this week in The Times, in which he confirmed that, should China impose new security laws, Britain would look to change its immigration rules thereby allowing millions of Hong Kong citizens a route to UK citizenship. 

This would amount to “one of the biggest changes to our visa system in history”, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time. The UK’s history is built on welcoming groups from around the world unable to stay in their homelands and none more so than in 1972, when then President of Uganda Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of the country’s Asian minority, giving them just 90 days to leave. 

Nina Dowell, Newgate’s COO and a second-generation Ugandan refugee, recalls her experiences from that turbulent period:

“Our family had settled in Uganda generations before and it had very much been our home. Before the expulsion, my siblings and I went on what we thought would be a three-week holiday to India with our mother (in the hope that the fighting would die down and we could return back to Uganda safe), but it turned into a four and a half year nightmare. As the fighting didn’t die down and Ugandan Asians were being forced out of their homeland by Idi Amin.  My father left Uganda on one of the final planes out with just the clothes on his back and came to settle in the UK.”

“Whereas many Uganda refugees that arrived to the UK in those final flights out of Uganda chose to settle where others fleeing Uganda in the UK had moved to (Leicester and Wembley being two of those areas), my family decided that as Britain was now to be our home, we would move elsewhere. They settled on Wrexham in North Wales – no other Indians chose this spot and for years afterwards, most of our visitors could be guided to our front door as we were the only Indians in the Village!”

Aside from the historic relationship between the UK and its former colony, Hong Kong has become renowned as an economic hub in the region. As with those immigrating from Uganda in the 1970s, the potentially three million that would be eligible to come would bring with them not only their skills, but their commercial drive.

“The Indians were really integrated within the Ugandan economy and helped to hold up the infrastructure of the country,” Nina continues. “Uganda had previously been known as the ‘Jewel of Africa’. That changed overnight with the expulsion and went in completely the opposite direction.  Those that came here were used to running their own businesses and making a way for themselves, so when they moved here, they brought that entrepreneurial spirit with them.  A significant number of the Asian business owners you have in the UK will have come from Uganda in the early 1970s ” 

If China’s actions result in the UK becoming the new home for hundreds of thousands of people from Hong Kong, bringing with them the entrepreneurial spirit and drive that the former colony is known for, just as so many Uganda Asians did when they moved here in the 1970s, it seems likely that the UK will benefit from our new arrivals.