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Why did South Asians leave their homelands?

The reasons people left or leave South Asia are varied and complex. The main movements of South Asian peoples around the globe occurred in the 20th century and continue to this day, although there is plenty of historical evidence to show that they were trading, spreading cultural and religious ideas and working in other regions centuries before this.

The British Empire was the main force for spreading South Asians abroad in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They went as indentured labourers for the expanding plantations in Fiji, Malaya, South Africa, the Caribbean and South America, or worked on the railways of East and Central Africa. Many of the South Asians in these regions are the descendants of these workers. However, there are many who have arrived more recently for business or work purposes.

World War Two and the collapse of the British Empire were also responsible for much of the movement of peoples around the world. The 1947 violent partition of India resulted in hundreds of thousands of people moving within the region and beyond. Later, the need for professional and manual workers in post-war Britain, and then in the United States, resulted in the period of mass immigration in the 1950s and 60s.

In the early 1970s, the expulsion of Asians from East Africa brought many entrepreneurs and professionals to the West.

Since then, South Asians have continued to move around the globe. Some emigrated to escape war, such as the Sri Lankan Tamils in the 1990s, others to escape poverty or persecution. Many continue to go for work or education: every year, 200,000 Indians apply for student visas to the USA. Skilled South Asians are being recruited to the West for their specialist expertise in areas such as IT or medicine. The Middle East continues to draw a steady stream of South Asians for work in a variety of fields, from housekeeping to accountancy.

Also see…

> Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History – by Rozina Visram
> Asians in Britain from the British Library website
> UCLA South Asia website
> The Center for South Asia Studies, University of California

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Left: East Indian labourers on a Trinidad cacao estate. Photo: Project Gutenberg

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