Australia says sorry to abused migrant children

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The Independent Online

Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd apologised today to the thousands of British migrants who were abused or neglected in state care as children.

The Child Migrants Programme, which ended 40 years ago, sent poor children from the UK to a "better life" in Australia and elsewhere, but many were abused and ended up in institutions or as labourers on farms.



His apology came after it emerged Prime Minister Gordon Brown will issue an apology for the UK's role in the New Year.



Speaking to a gathering of 1,000 victims known as the "Forgotten Australians" at Parliament House in Canberra, Mr Rudd said: "We are sorry.



"Sorry that as children you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where so often you were abused. Sorry for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care.



"Sorry for the tragedy - the absolute tragedy - of childhoods lost."



Mr Rudd said the Australian government wanted the national apology to become "a turning point in our nation's story".



"A turning point for governments... to do all in our power to never allow this to happen again," he said.



He recognised the mistreatment and continued suffering of some 500,000 people held in orphanages or children's homes between 1930 and 1970.



He also apologised to the 7,000 child migrants from Britain who live still in Australia.



As they were shipped out of Britain, the children were separated from their families and many were told - wrongly - they were orphans, while the parents were told that they had gone to a better life.



But most were brought up in institutions, or by farmers, and many were treated as child slave labour.



Mr Rudd added it was important to acknowledge the past to be able to move forward as a nation.



"The truth is, this is an ugly story. The truth is, great evil has been done."



He said he hoped that the victims would be known as the "remembered Australians" from today.



In the UK, Mr Brown has written to the chairman of the health select committee, which looked into what happened, to confirm he will issue an apology in the New Year.



The Prime Minister told Kevin Barron "the time is now right" for the UK Government to apologise for the actions of previous governments.



"After consultation with organisations directly involved with child migrants, we are going to make an apology early in the New Year," he wrote.



"It is important that we take the time to listen to the voices of the survivors and victims of these misguided policies."



Yesterday, Children's Secretary Ed Balls said it was a "matter of shame" that the "terrible policy" continued for so long.



He told Sky News Sunday Live: "The apology is symbolically very important.



"It is a stain on our society and my responsibility as Children's Minister is to make sure that the next generation of care leavers get a much better deal than those awful events in the past."



He added: "This happened for hundreds of years with governments around the world, particularly in the 1950s and the 1960s.



"I think it is important that we say to the children who are now adults and older people and to their offspring that this is something that we look back on in shame.



"It would never happen today. But I think it is right that as a society when we look back and see things which we now know were morally wrong, that we are willing to say we're sorry."



A Government spokeswoman added that it was working closely with the Child Migrants Trust and the International Association of Former Child Migrants and their families.



She said: "We will undertake a period of dialogue with those affected, prior to a formal apology. We plan to make a more detailed announcement early in the New Year."



Sandra Anker, who was sent to Australia from Britain when she was six, described what happened as "one of the crimes of the century".



She told the BBC: "Why I was sent out is beyond me. I don't understand it. I was deprived of my rights as a British citizen and I feel the British government have a lot to answer for.



"I feel really angry about it and feel the British government should compensate us so that we can get back to England and get to be with our families.



"We've suffered all our lives. For the government of England to say sorry to us, it makes it right - even if it's late, it's better than not at all."

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