Carleton University has received what is believed to be “the most comprehensive collection of documents” reporting the immigration of 6,000 Ugandan Asians to Canada in the summer and fall of 1972.
The Canadian Immigration Historical Society and its partners officially handed over the collection to the university on June 20.
“At the time when this was happening people’s minds weren’t on preserving history, but this is what this archive does. It actually preserves our history as stories,” says Salim Fakirani, who was only two when his family left Uganda at the exodus order of dictator Idi Amin.
The collection will be accessible on the Internet by Sept. 28, just after the 40-year anniversary of Amin’s order, says the society.
It includes hundreds of British, American, Canadian and Ugandan newspaper clippings and a day-by-day narrative of the three-month immigration process conducted by Canadian immigration officials based in Uganda.
“It’s a significant event in Canadian history. It’s the first large-scale non-European immigration to Canada … so it’s worth studying from an academic standpoint,” says Fakirani.
Many of the Ugandan Asians who travelled to Canada had university degrees from England, says Ginette Leroux, a visa worker who helped hand out about 2,600 immigration applications a day during her month’s work in the East African country.
“They were very pleasant people and they were very educated people. I think we were lucky to get them,” she says. “I think as far as immigrants and immigration goes, we got the cream of the crop.”
The collection couldn’t have come at a better time for the university’s Institute of African Studies, says professor and director Blair Rutherford, as there’s a new first-year course starting in September that looks at African refugees.
It should also help students in courses such as history, anthropology and political science, he says. Graduate students will benefit, too.
“We have students who do master’s and PhD theses on this topic. In fact, I know a few students looking at Ugandan Asians in Canada, so this is excellent material they can access directly on campus.”
Fakirani looked over the collection before it was given to Carleton and says more than just students and researchers will read its contents.
“It’s just unbelievable the amount of documentation there is of what happened during that period,” he says. “For those interested, including the South Asian community, it’s incredible.”