Charity welcomes migrant apology

September 2, 2009 / BBC News

A Nottinghamshire charity has welcomed news that the Australian government is set to apologise to British child migrants who were abused in state care.

About 10,000 children were sent down under from orphanages and institutions in Britain from the 1930s to 1967.

They were promised a better life but many were made to work as labourers, suffering physical and sexual abuse.

Social worker Margaret Humphries, who set up the Child Migrant Trust 23 years ago, said the apology was a huge step.

Many parents did not know their children had been sent to Australia.

'Appalling chapter'

Ms Humphries has been working to reunite families since she uncovered the scandal in the 1980s.

"I wouldn't underestimate how important this step of recognition is because that's what it is, recognition of what happened to them, all that they lost and what they are still suffering," Ms Humphries said.

She said she believed the British government may follow suit shortly with an apology.

"I would find it almost impossible to believe that at some point there wouldn't be [apology from British Government]. This is such an appalling chapter in our childcare history."

John Hennessy, who was the son of an unmarried mother, was sent to an Australian children's home as part of the scheme, where he suffered physical abuse. His injuries left him with a life-long stutter.

"This move by the Australian government is appreciated very much but we would have liked the British government to have come first. They were the ones that deported us and then forgot us.

"I believe the British Government should be embarrassed," he said.

He was reunited with his mother by the Child Migrant Trust.

"I was only with her for six years, she died a couple of years ago. But being the only child, what my poor mother must have gone through was a living hell."

'Healing process'

A spokesperson for the Australian High Commission said its government believed it was now time to apologise.

"By the end of 2009 the Australian Government will issue a formal statement of acknowledgement and apology, on behalf of the nation, to Forgotten Australians and former child migrants.

"This is a significant national step in the healing process for Forgotten Australians and former child migrants.

"Many former child migrants and other children who were in institutions, their families and the wider community have suffered from a system that did not adequately provide for, or protect children in its care," the spokesperson said.

Inquiries to Downing Street about a British Government apology were referred to the Foreign Office, which has yet to comment.

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