First published on Thursday 27 November 1997:

50 refugee family now self-made millionaires

A REFUGEE family success story founded in heartache and fear will be one of thousands celebrated by a Westminster Abbey service today.

Ugandan Asian immigrant Yusuf Virmani faced kidnap, chaos and poverty as a result of former President General Idi Amin's brutal ethnic-cleansing campaign in 1972.

But 25 years after arriving in the UK as a frightened 16-year-old, the Blackburn with Darwen Councillor and businessman has helped restore his family to millionaire status. A Thanksgiving Service has been organised at Westminster Abbey by the British-Asian Uganda Trust as an opportunity for the former evacuees to thank those who helped.

The Silver Jubilee service will be attended by numerous dignitaries, including the Prime Minister of the time, Sir Edward Heath.

The Virmani family, who own a chain of North West garages including Jan's Service Station, Accrington Road, Blackburn, left Uganda with suitcases and just 50 on October 12, 1972.

Coun Virmani's father Jan Mohammed and late mother Amina left behind a luxury home and six service stations when the family of three girls and two boys were airlifted to a new life in England.

They eventually settled in Blackburn where Jan Virmani set about rebuilding his business through oil company contacts he made in Africa. Coun Virmani, 42, of Burnley Road, Blackburn, said: "My dad was pretty wealthy.

"But because this Asian thing came up we couldn't sell the property and just left it to the government."

Political unrest in Uganda meant that Yusuf's childhood was peppered with images of murder and violence.

Then on August 9, 1972, Amin issued a decree giving the 50,000-strong Asian community a 90-day deadline to leave the country.

Yusuf narrowly escaped death after being kidnapped as law and order disintegrated.

The father of two, who helped his father in the family business, added: "I was kidnapped in 1972 for two days.

"Fortunately, they just let me go in the middle of the night."

Coun Virmani has returned to Uganda to see the abandoned business sites and home for himself but says the family are now happy to lay the past to rest.

He added: "My parents were affected the most.

"They went from a life of luxury to near poverty in a country where they could not speak the language.

"But my father has forgotten about all that now.

"We have all been very lucky."

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50 refugee family now self-made millionaires archive/1997/11/27/NEWS1-2VQ.html