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Coventry woman returns to resettlement camp 50 years after fleeing Uganda

Rajna Dattani, 62 and her mum Sushila Patel recalled their memories of fleeing Uganda 50 years ago

A woman has said she still has vivid flashbacks of the time soldiers raided her home as her family were being forced to flee Uganda, 50 years ago.

Rajna Dattani was just 12 when Ugandan Asians were given just 90 days to leave the country by notorious dictator Idi Amin.

She said she could still remember the look of panic on her mother’s face.

Eventually settling in Coventry, she was one of about 40,000 people who came to the UK to rebuild their lives.

Amin seized control of Uganda in a bloody coup in 1971, and his eight-year reign would see the deaths of some 300,000 people, many of them from ethnic minorities.

Just over a year after the coup in August 1972 he gave Asians 90 days to leave and it marked a dangerous time.

“I recall the look of panic on my family’s faces, the plan was to send us to the UK first, it was dangerous for girls,” Mrs Dattani, now aged 62, told BBC CWR.

Rajna Dattani looking at newspaper clippings at an exhibition

An exhibition has been set up in Honiton to celebrate its role in resettling those who had fled Uganda

She described soldiers coming to their home in the middle of the night and armed with machetes as they looked for money.

“That image is still there in front of my eyes,” she said.

The family were a particular target as they rented a home from the former president Milton Obote, who was ousted by Amin.

Like many others she arrived at the Heathfield Resettlement Camp, a former airbase in Honiton, Devon.

But in a twist of fate she and her family later found themselves being hosted by the Devon MP and Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe.

“Jeremy was looking to sponsor a small family unit and we fitted the bill, we were put on a train and he was there to greet us and drive us to his cottage,” the retired solicitor said.

Her mum, Sushila Patel, 82, remembered: “Everyone called me Susie as Sushila was too long for them.”

The family forged a bond with the MP and he later came to Mrs Dattani’s wedding.

“I settled down in the first week, there were no Indian or English families nearby, there was only one family in that area.”

For the first time in 50 years, Mrs Dattani has returned to the Devon town which is paying homage to her role in resettling Ugandan Asians with an exhibition at Thelma Hulbert Gallery.

Helen Hurford, the deputy mayor of Honiton said at the event: “I hope that we were a small beacon that gave warmth and kindness to those who were suffering.”

Exhibition in Honiton

The exhibition marked the 50th anniversary of the British Ugandan Asians’ arrival at Heathfield Resettlement Camp in Honiton

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