What Happened to the Canada That Saved My Family From a Brutal Dictator?

When Idi Amin, the President of Uganda, followed up on his dream, and ordered the expulsion of all Ugandan Asians within 90 days, whether those Asians were Ugandan for one generation or multiple generations, the Asians were gripped with fear and absolute panic. They were required to say good-bye to the only country that most had known; to hand-over all their life long possessions and assets, and simply go!!! Where would they go — how would they go — who would help them — and many such questions completely consumed them. These were traumatic times.

However, almost miraculously, Mike Molloy and a team of dedicated and empathetic Government officers and administrative staff descended from . It was clear that they had instructions from the very top, to do whatever was necessary, to facilitate and process the migration of some 6,000 Ugandan Asians to , within a matter of a few weeks.

My wife, Shamshad, and I were amongst the lucky ones to arrive in Canada in 1972.

Our entire experience in dealing with the Canadian Team in Uganda, and in receiving help, advice and guidance upon arriving in Canada was nothing short of amazing. There was an enormous amount of compassion and empathy, a high degree of sensitivity and understanding, and an unbelievable level of warmth and friendship. Within a matter of only a few weeks we were completely self-supporting. Our sense of belonging, and our love and respect for Canada came almost instantaneously.

It was not too long after that I completed my Law degree and got called to the Bar in British Columbia. Shamshad pursued a career in real estate sales and then became a full-time mom. Our success story is not very different from the stories of most of the other Ugandan Asians that arrived in Canada. The collective success of Ugandan Asians is in fact as much a success of Canada and Canadians, in doing everything that was necessary in an expedited way, to meet the needs of time, with an open heart, with compassion and with humanity.

Today, as I watch and read about Alan Kurdi’s story (and can barely contain my emotions) and learn that millions of Syrians, subjected to the fear, panic, trauma and total helplessness, far worse than Ugandan Asians were ever exposed to, can only be processed to come to Canada at the rate of some 2,000 in five years, I wonder what happened to the Canada that brought me and some 6,000 out of the clutches of a brutal dictator within a matter of days, without subjecting them to a bureaucratic nightmare and years of waiting: WHERE is the Canada that processed and brought in some 60,000 boat people in less than 18 months: WHERE is the compassion and desire to make things happen expeditiously exhibited during the migrations of large numbers of refugees from Hungary and Kosovo…..????

As I think about this and reflect upon my daily interactions with everyone I come into contact with, I am convinced that most Canadians have not lost any bit of this compassion and humanity. I believe the failure to take urgent steps and expedite the arrival of Syrian refugees in reasonable numbers and within a reasonable time, might have a lot to do with the apathy, a lessened sense of compassion and empathy at the highest levels of Government Departments.

Humanity and humanitarianism ought never to be a (foreign) policy objective — it must be an intrinsic VALUE that each of us possesses, one we want Canada to reflect, without reservation.

Editor’s Note: The boys’ aunt told The Canadian Press the boys’ names are Alan, and not Aylan, and Galib, not Galip, as originally released by the Turkish government.


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About Jalal Jaffer