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Australian PM Kevin Rudd Issues Apology to British Child Migrants
Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister, has issued an emotional apology to 7,000 British child migrants who suffered abuse and neglect in the country's state-run orphanages and religious institutions.
He also apologised to the 500,000 "Forgotten Australians" who were taken from their families and placed in care homes around the country.
"We come together today to offer our nation's apology. To say to you, the Forgotten Australians, and those who were sent to our shores as children without their consent, that we are sorry," Mr Rudd said.
"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 spoke specifically about the experiences of thousands of British children taken from their families and sent to Australia.
"We acknowledge in particular the children shipped to Australia as child migrants, robbed of your families, robbed of your homelands, regarded, not as innocent children, but sources of child labour," he said.
"To those who were told they were orphans but were taken here without their parents consent, we acknowledge the lies you were told, the lies told to your mothers and fathers and the pain the lies caused for a life time.
"To those of you separated on the dockside from your brothers and sisters, taken alone and unprotected to the most remote parts of a foreign land, we acknowledge today that the laws of our nation failed you.
"And for this we are deeply sorry."
Some in the audience wept openly as Mr Rudd shared painful stories of children he'd spoken with — children who were beaten with belt buckles and bamboo, raped and who grew up in places they called "utterly loveless."
He said he hoped the national apology would help to "heal the pain" and be a turning point in Australian history.
The apology was welcomed by victims of the system, despite ongoing calls for compensation.
It came two days after Gordon Brown said he would issue an apology to all child migrants deported from Britain early next year.
Child migrants to Australia have told of terrible physical, psychological and sexual abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to be caring for them. The average age of child migrants to Australia was eight, but some children were sent away as young as two.
In the 1990s one man told a British parliamentary committee of the criminal abuse he was subjected at the hands of Catholic priests at Tardun in Western Australia.
A number of Christian brothers competed between themselves to see who could rape him 100 times first, he said.
Because the men liked his blue eyes, he would beat himself in an attempt to make them change colour.
Other children have told of having to eat flies to survive and of being forced to beat other children. When they told adults about the abuse, they were not believed.
Sandra Anker was sent to Australia in 1950 aged just six years old - or "exiled", as she described it.
"I spent years waiting for someone to realise they had made a mistake and to come and collect me," she told the BBC. "I was at a loose end for a very long time."
"It took years and years of misery of not knowing where we'd come from, who were, being denied our birthright of being British.
"It's really been horrendous. And I wouldn't wish it on anyone... We need to be welcomed back to our homeland."
Many of the children sent to Australia - predominantly from impoverished British families - were told their parents were dead, and that a better life awaited them in Australia. Their parents were given very little information about where the children were going, many didn't know they had left the country. On arrival in Australia, the young migrants were separated from their brothers and sisters and plunged into a life of hardship and brutality.
Now adults, many suffer from health problems as a result of their time in care.
In total 150,000 British children may have been shipped abroad between 1618 – when a group was sent to the Virginia Colony – and 1967, most of them from the late 19th century onwards.
A 2001 Australian report said that between 6,000 and 30,000 children from Britain and Malta, often taken from unmarried mothers or impoverished families, were sent alone to Australia as migrants during the 20th century.