Australian government sued over abuse claims

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Children at Fairbridge Farm School in 1934
Image caption,
Many orphaned children were sent to the Fairbridge Farm School in Australia

A group of former British child migrants has launched a class action suit against the Australian government.

More than 65 people are seeking compensation for the abusive treatment they received at the Fairbridge Farm School in New South Wales.

The British and Australian governments have both previously issued a formal apology to child migrants but not offered any financial compensation.

The UK deported thousands of children, telling many their parents had died.

Hundreds of British children - some as young as four years old - were sent to the Fairbridge Farm School in rural New South Wales between the start of World War II and the mid-1970s.

Before being shipped out to Australia, many of the British children were told they were now orphans, and that a more abundant life awaited them in Australia.

Most were deported without the consent of their parents, and in mothers and fathers were commonly led to believe that their children had been adopted somewhere in Britain.

On arrival in Australia, the policy was to separate brothers and sisters. And many of the young children ended up in what felt like labour camps, where they were physically, psychologically and often sexually abused.

Many claim they suffered physical and sexual abuse, and say they have borne life-long bodily and psychiatric injuries as a result. Now they are seeking legal redress and financial compensation.

In total 130,000 British children were sent from the UK to Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) and Australia.

Post-war, 7,000 were shipped to Australia and 1,300 to New Zealand, Rhodesia and Canada.

Government apologies

The former pupils in Australia have now joined together in what is believed to be the first class action suit against an Australian government connected with the practice of child migration.

It is aimed at both the state government of New South Wales and the federal government in Canberra.

In 2009 former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to hundreds of thousands of people, which included British migrants, who were abused or neglected in Australian state care as children.

He said he was "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".

Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised in 2010 for the UK's role in sending more than 130,000 children to former colonies, including Australia, where many suffered abuse.

He expressed regret for the "misguided" Child Migrant Programme, telling the Commons he was "truly sorry" and announced a £6m fund to reunite families that were torn apart.

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