Monday, August 1, 2011

From riches to rags and back

Khalid Sheikh's family was expelled from Uganda in 1972

As a study suggests Asians in the UK account for £100bn of the country's economic output, BBC News website talks to one Asian businessman about his rise from penniless immigrant to millionaire.

Khalid Sheikh is the owner of a packaging business with an annual turnover of around £6.5m but he recalls his arrival in the UK was not auspicious.

He still vividly remembers arriving at Stansted Airport on 28 September 1972. "It was chilly," he laughs.

It must have seemed particularly cold to a 14-year-old used to the heat of Uganda in central Africa.

His family, like most other Ugandans of Asian origin, had been summarily expelled by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

Mr Sheikh says his family was comparatively lucky - unlike many others who had to spend time in temporary accommodation they had relatives in Leicester who they immediately went to stay with.

We came like everybody else with whatever little we could grab in our bare hands
Khalid Sheik

In Uganda Mr Sheik's father owned a chain of clothing shops which he ran with members of his extended family.

But their new life in the UK was very different from what they had been used to, Mr Sheikh says.

'Full circle'

"It was two different worlds. One minute we were living a very, very affluent and comfortable lifestyle in Uganda, suddenly we come here and there are up to six of us staying in each room.

"We came like everybody else with whatever little we could grab in our bare hands."

The 1970s were a tough time for the family, Mr Sheikh recalls, but by the start of the next decade things were beginning to look up.

"Come the 1980s we started opening businesses and in fact we've been through the whole phase full circle," he says.


His company, Clifton Packaging, will celebrate its 25th anniversary at the end of this year. He has plans to expand the business, which manufactures food packaging, with a joint venture in India.

"That gives me a lot of pleasure. Everybody knows that the Chinese and Indians are carving into our market and here we are taking the battle to their own battlefield," he says.

As well as pride in his company, Khalid Sheikh also has enormous pride in his adopted country.

He says he has rejected numerous attempts by the Uganda authorities to tempt him and his family back since the fall of Idi Amin.

"My answer to them was very simple: 'This is the country that gave me refuge in my greatest hour of need, you kicked us out in spite of what we'd already contributed to the prosperity of Uganda.'"

"This is where I got refuge, where I got opportunity, where my children are, this is where my loyalty is," he says.


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