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Azmina Jiwa – A Ugandan Refugee’s Journey to Sutton Revealed

An exclusive by Nick Kituno, as published in Your Local Guardian on 21st November 2018

Azmina Jiwa was just a teenager when it became clear she couldn’t return home to Uganda.

Amid political and economic strife, her family was among tens of thousands of Asians who were forced by the government to leave Uganda in 1972.

They had 90 days to pack up and leave behind everything they knew – neighbourhoods, communities, and livelihoods – and go somewhere else.

Despite decades of an Asian minority integrating into the very fabric of the country, that would soon be tarnished by one of Africa’s most notorious dictators - former president Idi Amin.

Azmina, who now lives in Sutton, but was born in Kenya and grew up in Lira, northern Uganda, left for the UK and avoided the troubles which soon emerged.

But it didn’t mean she was spared of the consequences.

She said: “I had just under a year of A-Levels and then the crisis in Uganda started, with Asians having to leave."

“I couldn't go back."

“There was a point when I didn't know where my parents were. My father had a Ugandan citizenship so, at first, he thought he could stay, but everyone had 90 days to leave just because of their heritage – being an Asian."

“Really you are a Ugandan national because you had a citizenship but [at the time] that didn't count anymore."

“I'm one of seven, so you can imagine my father had six of my other siblings with him - little toddlers - to take care of and became a refugee in a country that he'd never seen before."

“It was quite scary.”


Asian-Ugandan refugees arriving in the UK after being expelled from the UK. Photos: PA Archive

Policies enforced by Amin, and even those before him by ousted president Milton Obote, almost completely devastated Uganda – economic repercussions the country is still recovering from to this day.

While both were overthrown during their reigns before being forced into exile, rough estimations on the number of civilians that died are in the hundreds of thousands.

Azmina would spend the next three years living in a hostel on her own while training to become a chiropodist in London.

Chores such as cleaning, ironing, and babysitting were the norm, while also facing newfound hostility from others as she tried to fit in.

Although she’s been in the occupation for around 37 years, it was a combination of anxiety, depression, and feeling socially ostracised that made life difficult for her.

She said: “All that kind of anxiety, low self-esteem, inability to make friends, I just pushed it down and just got on with life."

“Then when I had a career, and became a podiatrist, I started hiding. In my social life I was very shy, I was always hiding, always not sure what to say, what to do."

“I guess the years of when you learn social skills didn't develop because I had to transition [from Uganda to the UK] and I was stranded in a country where I didn't know anybody, whereas in Uganda we know everybody.”

Mrs Jiwa has since had two children, Jazzmin and Shamir, with her husband and works part-time as a podiatrist in Carshalton, living in Sutton for more than 40 years.

After going through a “journey of self-discovery”, the happiness coach has now published a book following her own personal experiences following her “path to freedom”.

The book, ‘Freedom to Be Me’, was published on November 18 and “provides tools that helps people deal with anxiety and depression”, things she suffered with after moving here.

With a target of selling 250 copies, 100 will help to feed and educate 100 children in Nairobi, Kenya.

Nick Kituno

Freedom to be mee book.jpg

Azmina Jiwa after publishing her book

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