Uganda Asian Exodus: Laila Datoo’s Exclusive Collection of Photos of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan’s Visit to a Refugee Camp in Italy in January 1973

By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher/Editor BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, UNHCR, at an Italian refugee camp hosting Asian expelled by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, Barakah photo.
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, then United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, addressing a group of Asian refugees at a refugee camp in Colonia Trieste in Otranto, Italy, following their expulsion in 1972 from Uganda. The Prince’s visit took place in January 1973. Photo: Laila Datoo collection.

In mid-summer, when Barakah published Photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Visits to Jinja from the Sadruddin Mitha and Sultan/Salim Somani collections, I was contacted by Laila Datoo of Oshawa, Ontario, originally of Jinja, regarding an important collection of photographs that she had of Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan’s visit on January 21, 1973 to a refugee camp in Colonia Trieste in Otranto, Italy, which hosted approximately 35 Ugandan Asian refugees. At the time, the Prince was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

When Idi Amin first announced the expulsion of Asians in August 1972, Laila was in Nairobi, and did not return to Jinja. After interviews and assessment at the UNHCR offices set up in Nairobi, she was assigned to go to Italy in November 1972. She spent 6 months at the camp before she finally settled in Canada in May 1973. She has lived here ever since, and has been an active member of the Ismaili community in Oshawa, Ontario, about 60 kms east of Toronto.

Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan with Laila Datoo at an Asian refugee camp in Italy, Barakah photo
Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan shares a moment with Laila Datoo, who was given the honours of accompanying the Prince and Princess during their visit in January 1973 to an Asian refugee camp in Italy. Photo: Laila Datoo colection.

Laila has been carrying this memorable collection for some 47 years, and I am sincerely grateful to her for submitting her collection for publication in Barakah, a website that is dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat (I invite other Jamati members to contact Barakah at simerg@aol.com to submit photos for publication).

I arrived at Laila’s place full of anticipation and excitement and, as with every visit to an Ismaili family, I was first invited to have chai and other delicious Ismaili snacks. Of course, all Covid-19 protocols were followed, and I had already tested negative of the coronavirus the same week. Laila’s son Issa and his wife Shabnum from Hunza as well as her two grandchildren, Qaim and Rayan, were all at home when I visited the family. She also has a daughter Taslim. Her late husband, Nizar, passed away 4 years ago at the age of 76, and was originally from Dar es Salaam. Laila and Nizar were married a few months after she arrived in Canada from the Italian camp.

Nizar Datoo and Laila Datoo Taiwan visit
Nizar and Laila Datoo travelled widely around the world during their lives together, and actively served the Jamat of Oshawa, Ontario, for several decades. Here they are pictured during their visit to Taiwan in April, 2002. Photo: Laila Datoo collection.

Little did I realize that Nizar was the Ismaili scout master and mentor of youth I had known in Dar es Salaam, until I saw his portrait hanging on a wall by the dinning table. Fond memories came to my mind as I saw more photos of him with Dar es Salaam’s boy cubs and scouts as well as his colleagues in the leadership team, including Messrs. Jassani, Mamlo Dhanji, Mohammed Jivraj and Amin Meghji, among others.

Nizar Datoo Ismaili Scout Dar es Salaam Barakah
Nizar Datoo, a popular Ismaili scout master in Dar es Salaam during the 1960’s. Photo: Laila Datoo collection.
Nizar Datoo with Ismaili scout leaders
Nizar Datoo, standing first at left, with prominent Dar es Salaam Ismaili scout leaders (mid 1960’s). Photo: Laila Datoo collection.
Aga Khan Boys scouts and Cubs
Aga Khan Ismaili boy cub and scout leaders with their groups at the Aga Khan Girls Primary School. The school was shared by both boys and girls at different times of day until a new Aga Khan boys primary school opened in 1963 on United Nations Road (formerly Cameroon Road). Photo: Laila Datoo collection.
Ismaili scouts march at anganyika's independence day
Ismaili scouts are seen marching at an official event during Tanganyika’s independence day celebrations in December 1961. Photo: Laila Datoo collection.
Prince Aly Khan inspects a boy scouts guard of honour.
Prince Aly Khan inspects a boy scouts guard of honour. Location and date unknown. Photo: Laila Datoo collection.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan’s Visit to a Uganda Asian Refugee Camp in Italy

Prince Sadruddin was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and his visit to the camp was seen as a morale-boosting occasion for the Ugandan Asian refugees. He visited the Jamatkhana at the premises, and later addressed a gathering of Ismailis and non-Ismaili refugees. In the group was an African Ismaili who, despite not being an Asian, had decided to leave Uganda in solidarity with his Ismaili brothers and sisters who had been expelled by Idi Amin. During the visit, Laila was invited to escort the Prince and Princess. She was then in her early 20’s.

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan at Italian refugee camp.
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan in conversation with Laila Datoo outside the Jamatkhana premises at the refugee camp in Italy. Photo: Laila Datoo collection.
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan addressing refuees from Uganda at a camp in Italy.
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan visiting Asian refugees from Uganda during his visit to a UNHCR refugee camp in Italy in January 1973. Photo: Laila Datoo collection.
Princess Catherine Aga Khan at refugee camp in Italy.
Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan with Asian Ugandan refugees at a camp in Italy. Laila Datoo (5th from left, in a pink dress). was given the honours to accompany the Prince and Princess during their visit to the camp. Photo: Laila Datoo collection.
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan at refugge camp in Italy.
Laila Datoo carrying a plateful of samosa, as Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan mingles with Asian refugees over light refreshments at a refugee camp in Italy in January 1973. Photo: Laila Datoo collection.
Princess Catherine Aga Khan with a refugee boy at camp in Italy.
Princess Catherine Aga Khan talks to a young Asian refugee boy from Uganda during her visit with Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan to a refugee camp in Italy in January 1973. Laila, standing at right, had the honour of accompanying the Prince and Princess during their visit to the camp. Photo: Laila Datoo collection.
Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan at Uganda Asian refugee camp in Italy, Barakh photo.
Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan pictured with a group of Asian refugees at a camp in Italy. Laila, seen behind the Princess, had the honour of accompanying the Prince and Princess during their visit to the camp in January 1973. Photo: Laila Datoo collection.
Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan with Asian refugees at a camp in Italy, photo Barakah
Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan pictured in January 1973 with the group of Ugandan Asian refugees at a UNHCR refugees camp in Italy. Laila, seen standing next to the Prince in a pink dress, had the honour of accompanying the Prince and Princess during their visit to the camp. Photo: Laila Datoo collection.

____________________

Laila Datoo’s Inspiration and Strength: Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan

Aga Khan Mawlana Hazar Imam in a darbar robe at a mulaqat, Barakah
A photograph of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan at a Darbar mulaqat. Date and event not known. Photo: Laila Datoo collection.

Laila’s immense faith and love for Mawlana Hazar Imam was evident during my visit as she described the challenges that she went through her life. She told me that his hand has always been on her shoulders, and that she carries Mawlana Hazar Imam’s blessings in her heart continuously for strength, comfort, inspiration and mushkil-ahsan (protection from difficulties). At Oshawa Jamatkhana, before Covid-19, she found joy in tending its garden for many years. Nizar and Laila also served in leadership positions in Oshawa as the Jamatkhana’s Kamadia and Kamadiasaheba. She looks forward to the end of the pandemic, and finds inspiration by attending the Jamatkhana on her scheduled days.

Mawlana Hazar Imam His Highness the Aga Khan International Centre Toronto.
Mawlana Hazar Imam being received by Jamati leaders upon his arrival at Toronto’s International Centre during his first visit to the Canadian Jamat in November 1978. Photo: Laila Datoo collection.
Aga Khan addressing a gathering.
Mawlana Hazar Imam addressing a gathering. Date and location, unknown. Photo: Laila Datoo Collection

It was touching to be visiting an Ismaili home, and departing with an even deeper sense of awareness of how Mawlana Hazar Imam resides in the hearts and souls of his spiritual children. Listening to personal faith stories and experiences is a deeply rewarding experience, and I am thankful for the opportunity to visit Laila and her family, and to come away with this rare collection of photos.

Dedication

This post is dedicated to Laila Datoo and her beautiful family. It is also a tribute to her late husband Nizar, whom she misses most dearly. We pray that his soul may rest in eternal peace.

Date posted: November 7, 2020.

___________________

If you come across typos or can help us accurately complete the photo captions please write to Malik Merchant at Simerg@aol.com.

Barakah welcomes your feedback. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or send your comment to simerg@aol.com. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

Please join/like Barakah at http://www.facebook.com/1000fold and also follow us at http://twitter.com/simerg.

This website, Barakah, is a special project by http://www.Simerg.com and is dedicated to the textual and visual celebration of His Highness the Aga Khan, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamate.

Malik Merchant

About the author: Malik Merchant is the founding publisher/editor of this website, Barakah (2017), as well as two other blogs Simerg (2009) and Simergphotos (2012). Formerly an IT consultant, he now dedicates his time to family projects and his 3 websites. He is the eldest son of Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018) and Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant who both served Ismaili Jamati institutions for several decades in Mozambique, Tanzania, Pakistan, the UK and Canada in both professional and honorary capacities as teachers and missionaries. Malik’s daughter, Dr. Nurin Merchant, assists him as an honorary editor of the three websites. She received her veterinary medicine degree with distinction from the Ontario Veterinary College (2019, University of Guelph) and now works as a veterinarian.

10 comments

  1. You say, “In the group was an African Ismaili who, despite not being an Asian, had decided to leave Uganda in solidarity with his Ismaili brothers and sisters who had been expelled by Idi Amin.” That African Ismaili was Pyaralli Virani (Virani for being adopted by the Virani family of Kampala). Son Nurdin played cricket for Aga Khan, Asians and Uganda XI and is the highest scorer at the international level in East Africa, 208 n.o. vs Zambia.

    Pyaralli Murid used to take mehmani to Jamatkhana every evening for the family, and asked them to support his wish to convert. His story of meeting the Prince at the Italian UNHCR centre I have as well as of him meeting the Prince when he visited Vancouver in 1975.

    Editor’s note: Vali Jamal’s book on the Ugandan Asian, in the making for many years, is expected to be published soon. We look forward to reading stories that Vali has researched over the past several years for his monumental 2500 page work.

    Like

  2. Very inspiring and heartwarming to see these invaluable memories during a sad period in Uganda when families were dramatically and brutally uprooted and split but they were so brave and courageous and never lost their hope and faith, shukran allahamdulelah.

    My dad (no longer with us) was in the Naples camp and I am looking for any photos, please do connect if you have any.

    Best Regards, Alnasir

    Like

  3. Mr. Malik, very thankful to you for choosing very important and unique field of seva through bringing up historical photographs and story telling. For many, like myself, this narrative is new and I am sure for many this help bringing back memories help re-living the good old past! We are grateful 🙏🏽

    Like

  4. Another article by a family of whom I personally know a lot for many years. Laila Datoo’s late husband Nizar Datoo was in fact born in the Island of Pemba and his father late Janmohamed Datoo was a pioneer of our community in Chake-Chake, Pemba. The subject article and beautiful pictures are very informative and educational account of the sad but memorable period in our history viz. the expulsion of Asians from Uganda.

    Malik, thank you so much for your support to post such historical account of the lives led by members of the Jamat from various parts of the world.

    Like

  5. Thank you for sharing these interesting photographs. The exodus from Uganda is still quite fresh in my mind. I truly admire Laila’s strength and courage throughout her life as well as at the current time of a worldwide pandemic. This piece was inspiring to read.

    Like

  6. Wonderful memories! We are so happy and proud to see our family member Laila Datoo experience and share the times with Prince Sadruddin.

    Love Azim and Rozmina

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  7. Beautiful pictures of Laila Datoo with Prince Sadruddin. So happy to hear that they served as Kamadia/Kamadianisaheba in Oshawa. We pray for Kamadiasaheb’s soul rest in eternal peace. Ameen. Excellent article by Malik. As usuall I really enjoy his writing.

    Love and Blessings to Datoo family.

    Like

    • This is an historical event that happened during the expulsion of Asians by President Idi Amin of Uganda during 1972. Rare pictures of Italy.

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