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Greenham resident recalls arriving in Newbury as a Ugandan refugee fleeing dictator Idi Amin’s brutal regime





Forty nine years ago today Pragna Hay was just six years old when she and her family arrived in the UK as refugees from Uganda.

On August 4, 1972, the president of Uganda Idi Amin announced that all Asians must leave the country as they were milking the economy of Uganda.

They were given just 90 days to leave.

Pragna Hay, front in white dress, with her family at the Equator pre-expulsion
Pragna Hay, front in white dress, with her family at the Equator pre-expulsion

Mrs Hay, a former Greenham councillor, said: “My father was just 40 years old and my mother 33 years old at the time. They had to leave their home, business and the life they had built behind them.

“The experience was horrific. Idi Amin was ordering Asians to be shot, robbed and raped.

“People’s lives were completely changed overnight.

Pragna Hay in Uganda with her younger brother
Pragna Hay in Uganda with her younger brother

“With a suitcase in hand and £50 in their pockets they boarded the plane at Entebbe airport and landed at Stansted Airport on October 13, 1972.”

She describes the moment they landed, feeling the chill in the air and adjusting to the darkness. “Living on the equator we were used to 12 hours of daylight, but here we were in our new home.”

The families were bundled onto coaches and taken to Houndstone Camp, Yeovil, where they were greeted by friendly volunteers and shown to their accommodation.

“We learnt a new way of life, a new language, new customs and a new beginning.”

Mrs Hay's parents returned to Houndstone Camp in 1986
Mrs Hay's parents returned to Houndstone Camp in 1986

On February 14, 1973, they were relocated to Greenham Common Camp in Newbury until April when they were offered a council house in Redditch.

“I remember the wooden corridors at Greenham and playing on the slopes,” she said. “I also remember going to a local school on my birthday and everyone singing me ‘happy birthday’ during assembly. That memory has stayed with me because it was very special.”

Mrs Hay said: “This was our new life. We adjusted. Somehow we all found our bearings, our strength had never left us, but had been overcome somewhat by fear of the unknown. Slowly step by step we learnt to live again.”

Pragna Hay visits her parents old shop on a trip to Uganda in 2012
Pragna Hay visits her parents old shop on a trip to Uganda in 2012

Next year marks 50 years since the expulsion and Mrs Hay is planning exhibitions at both the camps where her family were welcomed – Houndstone Camp, Yeovil, and Greenham Common, Newbury.

Mrs Hay organised an exhibition to mark the 40th anniversary of the camp, in 2012, which was visited by hundreds and she wants to keep the story alive with bigger events next year.

"I want to ensure that history is documented and the stories and memories are recorded for generations to come."

She plans to organise various events throughout the year and if you have memories you would like to share, whether as a volunteer welcoming the refugees or as a refugee please email Mrs Hay at info@ugandanasians.co.uk

Mrs Hay returns to her childhood home in 2012
Mrs Hay returns to her childhood home in 2012
Ugandan refugees arriving at Greenham Common
Ugandan refugees arriving at Greenham Common


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