Events | John Halani – He fled Uganda as refugee; 40 years later, he represents that country in B.C.



Uganda’s honorary Consul to British Columbia and Owner Tropicana Suites Hotel Vancouver

By Tara Carman — Vancouver Sun — When John Halani learned that Canada had offered to take in his family after Idi Amin ordered Ugandans of Asian descent out of the country, it was a bittersweet moment.

Halani, his wife, two children and one of his sisters were accepted by Canada. His parents and two siblings were not.

Canada was looking for people who were relatively young, spoke good English and would be able to find work easily, he explains. In Uganda, Halani was a 35-year-old business owner, local councillor and school board chairman; his parents were in their 60s and retired.

The day before Halani left for Vancouver, he put his parents on a plane to London, where his sister lived. One day, he hoped, the family would be reunited.

Like many Ugandan Asians, Halani was unconcerned when he heard Amin’s announcement that Asians had 90 days to leave the country. It only applied to Asians of foreign nationality, so Halani assumed that as Ugandan citizens, he and his family would be able to stay.

It was about a month later, when Halani and other Ismaili community leaders met with a representative of the UN, that he realized they would have to leave. The official warned Uganda soon would not be safe for anyone who looked Asian.

“His argument was that at the end of 90 days, you’re not going to carry a placard on your neck saying that ‘I’m a Ugandan citizen’ because we are all one colour … so the best thing is to leave and not face those consequences.”

Soon after, Halani learned the Canadian consular office in Kampala was open and accepting applications.

The Halanis landed first in Montreal and spent the night in a camp the government set up for Ugandan refugees. The next day, Halani asked the immigration officials — who were sending people all over the country — to send him to Vancouver, where he had friends and contacts.

They were met at the airport by people from the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. — which was just getting started that year — and some local Ismailis, who took them to a hotel and explained that they would have to go for an interview with the federal Department of Manpower and Immigration the next day.

“When we went to the Manpower (department) the first day and we were dressed up with suits and ties, the lady at the counter said ‘Why are you all so well dressed up? We have jobs lined up in warehouses.’ And I told them that we are business people; we are looking for jobs in the offices. They were a bit surprised.”

Within two weeks of his arrival, Halani had found a job selling window glass and moved his family out of the hotel and into a two-bedroom apartment in North Vancouver. His wife got a job as a clerk at the clothing store Fields.

The following year, he was able to sponsor his parents, after taking on a couple of other part-time jobs in order to meet the income requirement.

By 1975, Halani had earned enough to lease the Robsonstrasse hotel and the following year took on a second hotel, the Tropicana.

He and wife worked long hours to save up for a down payment on the hotels, which Halani has owned since the early 1980s.

Halani — who has maintained an extensive presence on various community boards through the years — is also Vancouver’s honorary consul for the Republic of Uganda.

Uganda’s government made contact with some of the expatriate Asian communities in 1991, when the World Bank offered the country development funding on condition that it restore property rights to the people who had been ordered to leave in 1972, Halani said.

He offered to chair a committee on behalf of Ugandan Asians living in Vancouver to gather the documentation of what they had lost and liaise with a representative in Uganda to oversee the lengthy legal process of returning it. It was through this work that he became Uganda’s representative in B.C.

It was also how Halani returned to Uganda for the first time in 1995. On that first visit he was shocked by the dilapidated condition of the roads and infrastructure, he recalled.

In his several return trips since then, he has noticed significant improvements.

The people have also changed, he said.

“It’s a new generation now in Uganda. Those who were there when we were there are not there, either because of war or HIV or whatever,” he said.

“Their children are there; they don’t remember what happened. And they’re so polite and understanding … they’re colour-blind. They really don’t see Asians and Africans.”

John Halani will be among the featured speakers at the Uganda Canada Convention in Toronto June 30th – July 1st.

Eventbrite —

Source — Vancouver Sun.

About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.


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