PM apologises for child migrants

By staff

The prime minister apologised to the British children forcibly sent to Commonwealth countries for a life of abuse and unpaid labour this afternoon.

Originally announced in November, after his Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd said sorry for the events of the period, Gordon Brown had been working on the final wording of the apology with charities representing former child migrants and their families.

“Mr Speaker, to all those former child migrants and their families; to those here with us today and those across the world – to each and every one – I say today we are truly sorry,” Mr Brown told the Commons.

“They were let down.

“We are sorry they were allowed to be sent away when at their most vulnerable. We are sorry that instead of caring for them, this country turned its back. We are sorry that the voices of these children were not always heard,
their cries for help not always heeded. And we are sorry that it has taken so long for this important day to come
and for the full and unconditional apology that is justly deserved.”

Mr Brown is understood to have been personally moved by the story of the migrants, at least 150,000 of which were taken to predominantly Australia and Canada between 1920 and 1967.

No British prime minister has ever apologised for the events, despite persistent calls from victims’ groups.

Around 60 survivors will come to London today to listen to the statement in person.

The practise of taking the children, aged between three and 14, was prompted largely by a desire to introduce white, hopefully British, stock, to the territories of the British empire.

Most came from care homes, but all were from deprived backgrounds. They were promised a better life in the Commonwealth but usually met a fate of unpaid labour and, frequently, abuse.

Last November Mr Brown’s Australian counterpart, Kevin Rudd, made a wider apology to the 500,000 children, mostly from overseas, who were held in institutions between 1930 and 1970.

“We are sorry,” he 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.”

The comments highlighted a distinct ethical agenda to Mr Rudd’s administration. He had already apologised to the ‘stolen generation’ of aboriginal children taken from their parents.