Reflection: Justin Trudeau’s victory, Uganda Asians, the Aga Khans & UNHCR

The election of Justin Trudeau as the prime minster of Canada has resonated with Uganda Ismailis everywhere because of Canada’s role in their resettlement after the expulsion of 1972.

jt 2

Dr Vali Jamal is writing a major book about the expulsion, called Uganda Asians: Then and Now, Here and There, We Contributed, We Contribute. In the book, Dr Jamal takes us through the role played by Canada and His Highness the Aga Khan and Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (UNHCR) in the expulsion saga.

Below, Dr. Vali Jamal shares his reflection on the 2015 Canadian Elections.

Justin Pierre James Trudeau, Rt Hon Prime Minister of Canada: Reclaiming glory

By Dr. Vali Jamal, PhD
Kampala, Uganda

It was an important election for me to follow. I stayed up whole night and jubilated when the winner was declared, around 5 am. In fact I followed the campaign ever since it opened. I could not believe it when the Liberals began to overtake the Conservatives in the last three weeks. I was thinking of the Uganda Asian expulsion all the time, particularly since the new prime minister’s father Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau played such an important role in it.

There were around 65,000 Asians in Uganda at the time of the expulsion (1972), 15,000 or so claiming Uganda citizenship. The British papers ratcheted up the magnitude of the problem, saying 80,000 Asians were poised to come to UK.  The British Prime Minister Edward Heath started calling up all Commonwealth premiers to help with the crisis facing him.

Edward Heath’s pleas fell on receptive ears in Canada. Already within a week of the expulsion notice departmental meetings were taking place in Ottawa to respond to the Asian expulsion and within a fortnight Pierre Trudeau announced at the parliament that Canada was ready to take in “without numerical limitation those Asians who meet the immigration selection criteria.” A team came out to Kampala within a month to process the stateless and any British passport-holders who wished to go to Canada.  In the end Canada admitted around 7,000 of the Uganda refugees, some from the UNHCR refugee centres.


Ismailis dominated in the Canadian intake as a majority of those who had taken out Uganda citizenship were Ismailis. They were following the advice of their spiritual leader His High the Aga Khan in doing so.

hhak page 1The Aga Khan family’s role in the expulsion did not end there. At the last week of the expulsion deadline there were around 6,000 Asians still in Uganda who wanted to make a go of their verified citizenship or who were handicapped and had failed getting into any country. In stepped UNHCR, with Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (uncle of His High the Aga Khan) at its helm. Prince Sadruddin had just that year been appointed the coordinator of all UN-agencies humanitarian efforts world-wide.  Prince Sadruddin personally visited several UNHCR centres and managed to resettle all the 6,000 or so Uganda Asian refugees in a score of countries within a year. Denmark stepped in and accepted as many of the handicapped people as wanted to come there. Sweden, Austria, Belgium and Holland played similar roles.

UNHCR - Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan

Prince Sadruddin is a “hero” of my book, along with Pierre Elliot Trudeau and the Aga Khan.

cover jul2012UGANDA ASIANS: Then and Now, Here and There.

  • Author: Dr Vali Jamal. He has a BA from Cambridge and a PhD from Stanford. He was the senior research economist of the UN-International Labour Organization for 25 years, 1976-2001.
  • 1940 pages & 4000 images
  • Forthcoming March 2016.
What people are saying about the forth coming book:

“A national asset in Uganda’s commercial diplomacy.”

His Excellency President Museveni of Uganda

“Encyclopedic, unequalled, an intellectual asset.”

Professor Mondo Kagonyera, Chancellor of Makerere University.

“Joins our campaigns to project the new image of Uganda.”

Professor Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile, Governor of the Bank of Uganda.

“A testimony to the authour’s perseverance, vision, perspicacity and abiding love of his people and country.”

His Excellency Patrick Edwards, High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago & Doyen of the Ugandan Diplomatic Corps.

“One man’s labour of love for his community.”

Professor Dharam Ghai

“Courageous, a generational book for generations to come.”

Professor Yash Tandon

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