by LAUREN CODLING
PUBLIC opinion on immigration has shifted “considerably” in the last 50 years, Asian leaders said on the anniversary last week of a major UK immigration law.
It was a Labour government that brought in the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1968.
Lord Navnit Dholakia, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, moved to the UK from Tanzania in the 1960s, and has wide experience in community and race relations.
He told Eastern Eye that public opinion has altered on migration, stating he would find it hard to imagine demonstrations against immigrants today.
“In the early days, I remember a march starting from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street of more than 20,000 people protesting against immigration legalisation to be brought in from the government at the time,” Lord Dholakia said.
“You don’t see that situation in the present day – if you want to lead a march against immigration, very few people would turn up. There is definitely a change in attitude of
how we look at immigration.”
The 1968 Act reduced the rights of Commonwealth citizens who wished to move to Britain.
The passing of the law came after concerns that 200,000 Kenyan Asians would take up their right to live in the UK after president Jomo Kenyatta threatened expulsion to anyone
without Kenyan citizenship.
The Observer columnist Kenan Malik has referred to the law as the “most nakedly racist piece of legislation of post-war years”.
“We can look upon all this as simply history, albeit a particularly shameful episode,” Malik
wrote in the paper last weekend.
“Britain has changed enormously since 1968… the raw, visceral racism that disfigured the nation then is much rarer now.”
Between 1968 and 1974, it was estimated that more than 70,000 Kenyan and Ugandan Asians arrived in Britain.
Jaffer Kapasi OBE, the honorary consul general of Uganda and founding member and patron of the Leicestershire Asia Business Association (LABA), came to the UK in 1972 when Ugandan president Idi Amin expelled the Asian minority from the country.
“When we came here, we had £55 in our pockets,” Kapasi told Eastern Eye. “[Compared to Uganda], we had come to a country that was very cold as we landed in November.
“We had come to an alien country with a different climate and different people to what we were used to in Uganda… but since then, this country has given us so much.”
Kapasi shared Lord Dholakia’s view on shifting opinion on immigration, but believes there is now a negative view towards European migrants which may have influenced the Brexit vote.
He said people seem to have forgotten how many migrants have come to the UK from different countries, adding that Europeans have been the most recent “targets”.
“I believe the Brexit vote was done on the basis on eastern European migrants,” he said.
“I find it strange that people have gone so against European migrants… they do contribute quite heavily in trade, farming and supplying domestic health and social care. But, somehow, people have turned against them.”
Lord Dholakia, who came to the UK to study at Brighton Technical College, said although coming to the country was a “shock”, he settled in well and established relationships
within the community.
Early on, he was invited to join the local Liberal Party after meeting with a group of youngsters in a Brighton pub. In 1962, he was elected to Brighton Council.
“It was a tremendous change of lifestyle,” the politician remarked.
Both Lord Dholakia and Kapasi agreed that the community has done “extremely well” in their progression after migrating to the UK from east Africa.
“There was an incredible amount of unity in the way [east African Asians] got into business structure in this country and they proved themselves to be tremendous role models for the community,” Lord Dholakia said.
Kapasi added that several notable figures in British society, such as doctors, academics, politicians and industrialists, originate from the diaspora.
“They have done extremely well,” he said.
Talking about how politicians can continue to bring communities together, Kapasi believes they should play a role in making sure they listen to minorities, especially considering Brexit.
“People of Indian and east Africa origin already have links with those countries, so [the government] could capitalise on that and try to improve trade with all the Commonwealth,”
“We can capitalise on that, making sure we have powerful trading relations and improving our existing trading relations.”