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Ugandan Refugee Crisis 40th Anniversary

The year 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Ugandan Asian refugee crisis. On August 4, 1972, then-President of Uganda, Idi Amin, ordered the expulsion of the country’s Asian population. At the time, there were over 80,000 individuals of Asian origin in Uganda.[1] With 90 days to leave, families scrambled to find a place to go. Many who held British citizenship went to the United Kingdom, while others left for India. Those with Ugandan passports were stripped of their citizenship, making them stateless.

At the time, Canada did not have diplomatic representation in Uganda. A team was sent to the capital, Kampala, under the direction of Roger St. Vincent to help to relocate refugees. Between September 6 and November 6, 1972, the team screened, selected and transported over 6,000 refugees to Canada. Most of these individuals flew to Canada on flights chartered by the Canadian government. This effort represented Canada’s first initiative to relocate significant numbers of non-European refugees. The experience showed the Government of Canada the importance of establishing a framework for refugee crises.[2]

Upon their arrival in Canada, the Ugandan Asian refugees were processed at a specially-established centre in Montreal. They were given warm coats, hats and boots to equip them for the Canadian winter. From there, the families were sent to their new homes across the country.

One of these families was sent to the small town of Bridgewater in Nova Scotia. Daxa Popat arrived with her parents and siblings from Uganda at the age of 14. When Idi Amin announced the expulsion of Ugandan Asians, the Popats thought that they would not be affected since they were Ugandan citizens. Once this policy changed, the family had to choose between going to India or to Canada. Daxa’s uncle, a chemical engineer in Ontario, sponsored the family to join him in Sarnia.

Once the Popats landed in Montreal, they were asked where they wanted to go by the immigration officials. When they replied, “Sarnia,” the official asked, “Why not Nova Scotia?” He told them that with a new plant opening in Bridgewater, there would be job opportunities for Daxa’s father, while it would be a good town to grow up in for the children. The family agreed to change their destination to Bridgewater and left the next day. They were greeted at the Halifax Airport by two couples from the local immigration services and welcomed to their new home. Today, the Popats still reside in Nova Scotia.

The Popat family waits at the airport in Uganda for their flight. Image courtesy of Daxa Popat.

The Popat family waits at the airport in Uganda for their flight. Image courtesy of Daxa Popat.

The Popat family arrives in Montreal on November 4, 1972. Image courtesy of Daxa Popat.

The Popat family arrives in Montreal on November 4, 1972. Image courtesy of Daxa Popat.


  1. Madokoro, Laura. “Remembering Uganda.” ActiveHistory.ca. 28 March 2012. 13 December 2012. http://activehistory.ca/2012/03/remembering-uganda/
  2. Molloy, Michael. “Molloy: Reflecting on the Ugandan refugee movement.” Western News. 03 October 2012. University of Western Ontario. 13 December 2012. http://communications.uwo.ca/western_news/opinions/2012/October/molloy_r...

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