Welsh Asian Heritage Project Celebrating and Archiving the Experiences of Ugandan Asians

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales is launching its new Welsh Asian Heritage Project which will celebrate and archive the experiences of Ugandan Asians in Wales, especially documenting important places of cultural, religious and historical significance.

In August 1972, President Idi Amin issued an order to expel Asians from Uganda declaring that Britain should take responsibility for their subjects of Indian origin.

Thousands of Asians, including those born and brought up in Uganda, were given just 90 days to leave the country. Many fled to the UK with little or no possessions, grateful to escape just with their lives.
A thousand bewildered and traumatised families arrived in North Wales in October 1972 and were accommodated at the disused military base at Tonfanau, Tywyn, Merioneth.

Local communities stepped up to support the new arrivals and offered them a glimmer of hope for the future in the strange unfamiliar environment they came to.

Whilst many Ugandan Asians families later left the camp to move to other parts of the UK, some stayed and made their home in Wales shaping the physical, economic, and social landscapes of their local communities by building places of worship, restaurants, cinemas, and schools, and introducing diverse traditions, festivals, and artistic expressions.

Chandrika Joshi was a resident at the Tonfanau camp. A retired dentist and now a creative storyteller, she shares her experience:

“More than 50 years ago, I came to Tonfanau as a fourteen-year-old girl with my family from Uganda. We came without any possessions but brought with us our language, our food, our religion, and our stories. Just like sugar which melts into milk, we have melted within the Welsh community, and I believe we have made it sweeter by creating a bond with the land we now call home.”

The Welsh Asian Heritage Project: Celebrating and Archiving the Experiences of Ugandan Asians will collect, display and archive stories like Chandrika’s. These will form part of the Commission’s archive (The National Monuments Record for Wales) and the People’s Collection Wales and will be available for the present and future generations.

Christopher Catling, Chief Executive of the Royal Commission, said: ‘it is time that national collections like ours recognised the many ways in which people of Ugandan Asian origin have changed and enriched the culture of Wales. We hope that this project will set the pattern for a number of future efforts to record the heritage of those who have found a sanctuary in Wales – from the boat people of Vietnam who came here in 1975 to more recent refugees from the war in Ukraine’.

“We will work with all local Asian communities and will collaborate with people with lived experience to co-create this project. Everyone is welcome to contribute their stories and to volunteer and support the project. Through the collection, display and archiving of memories, photographs, films, writings, and artifacts, we will chart the journey of expulsion to resilience,” says Perminder Dhillon, Project Leader of Welsh Asian Heritage Project: Celebrating and Archiving the Experiences of Ugandan Asians.

The project can be contacted on wahproject@rcahmw.gov.uk.

This project is being funded by the Welsh Government as part of its Anti-racist Wales programme.

Project launches online on Thursday 5th October 2023 at 5.00pm with talks, expert guests and interviews. For tickets and further information visit: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/launch-of-the-welsh-asian-heritage-project-tickets-716011899867?aff=oddtdtcreator

1. Settling in at Tonfanau: a group of teenagers flanked by the huts of the resettlement camp on a chilly October day in 1972.
© Geoff Charles Collection: The National Library of Wales https://viewer.library.wales/1582436#?xywh=-1%2C-335%2C3656%2C3069&cv=50

2. Children bonding at Tonfanau Camp with the international language of football! Photographs by kind permission of Delyth Lloyd Williams and with thanks to Tywyn Library https://rcahmw.gov.uk/inter-faith-week-2022-british-ugandan-asian-at-50/

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