Few people who were alive 40 years ago will forget the scenes of thousands of Ugandan Asians arriving in Britain after being expelled from their country by dictator Idi Amin.
Between 1972 and 1973, nearly 40,000 Ugandan Asians came here. Many originated in India and had British overseas passports, and the then Prime Minister Edward Heath said our country had a moral duty to help them.
Amin had forced them to leave everything. But he could not make them relinquish their skills, their determination and their resilience – all of which they brought here in abundance.
So 40 years later we are not commemorating the terrible circumstances of their departure from Uganda; we are celebrating the enormous contribution they have made to the UK. One of those celebrations is today’s debate in the House of Lords, which I’m delighted to be answering on behalf of the government.
As a community, the Ugandan Asians were quickly on their way to becoming one of Britain’s greatest success stories, with 1,000 of the newcomers being offered jobs within the first three months since they started arriving.
Today we see Ugandan Asians at the top of so many professions: journalism, business, sport, public services and, notably, politics, including Lord Popat, who has called today’s debate, and Shailesh Vara MP, who has called a similar debate in the Commons.
In 1997, Ugandan President Museveni invited the displaced Asians to return home. And while some returned to sort out their affairs, very few went back for good.
Belying their beginnings in Britain and defying those who said they weren’t welcome here, the Ugandan Asians teach us an important lesson. Their story shows just how much our minority communities have to offer.
As Minister for Faith and Communities, I have been arguing that, in this global race, Britain has a secret weapon: the many races that make up our diverse nation. These people have ingenuity, ideas, and business links across the world. And it is estimated that our economy misses out on more than £8 billion a year through failing to make the most of its BME communities.
So we need to make the most of our country’s untapped talent, ensuring that people can integrate and participate. In the global race, Britain needs to be as strong as it can be. That means giving all communities the opportunity to play their part and fulfil their potential – proving wrong, as the Ugandan Asian communities have, the 52 per cent of people who said, in one survey, that migrants have been bad for our economy.
As today’s debate will show, minority communities have so much to offer – even when they start with very little. So let’s, all of us, be inspired by the people who turned dispossession into prosperity and setback into success: our British Ugandan Asians.
Baroness Warsi is Senior Foreign Office Minister and Minister for Faith and Communities.