By Al Innes
Gordon Brown looks set to issue a formal apology to the child victims of a forced migration policy. Brown is believed to have commented that in the new year he feels the “time is right” to say sorry for a scheme that sent 150,000 children, some as young as three years old, abroad to a life of abuse and hardship. Between 1920 and and 1967 children in state or charitable care were sent abroad, often alone, to live and work in places such as Australia and Canada. Many had parents in the UK who were told the children faced a better life, while most ended up as unpaid labour abroad.
Ed Balls, the Children’s Secretary, remarked that the policy had been “a stain on our society.” Balls further commented saying:
“The apology is symbolically very important, 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.”
Australia’s premier, Kevin Rudd, went one step further than the British Prime Minister with his own apology to the 7,000 victims of the policy who still live in Australia.
“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 British government were believed to be offering the children a chance of a better life, while other evidence suggests they were seen as a burden to the British state and were more useful as labour for the colonies. In 1998 a British parliamentary inquiry reported findings that suggested:
“A further motive was racist: the importation of ‘good white stock’ was seen as a desirable policy objective in the developing British Colonies.”
According to the official files released by the National Archives, the representative of the governor of Tasmania in 1951, Sir John Norris stated:
“In this vast country of ours we must populate or face the possibility of losing it to some of the millions of Asiatics that menace us.”
He went on to request that re-population from European ethnic groups was essential.
“We want migrants of British stock.”
Kevin Rudd has recently apologised for the ‘lost generation’ of children who were sent out to institutions ranging from foster homes to orphanages and, under state protection, were subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Rudd described these environments as “utterly loveless.”
Only ending in 1970, Rudd directed a parliamentary bill at the tens of thousands of mixed-race children who were taken from their families in a process of white assimilation.
The question of the Black War, during which accusations of genocide against the indigenous inhabitants of Tasmania have been leveled at the British army, is one that still causes controversial debate among academics as well as politicians. Most controversial for many is the collaboration of both civilian and military in the removal and extermination of Aboriginals on the island.
Many of the victims of the child migration policy are seeking legal aid in order to sue the Government for compensation.
Tony Blair apologised in 1997 for the suffering caused to the Irish people during the potato famine, and in 2007 he issued a statement of regret for Britain’s role in the slave trade with many claiming this was far from the unconditional apology required.