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UK child migrants sent to Australia sue government over abuse

More than 100 Britons who were forcibly sent abroad as children under a resettlement scheme are suing the UK government over the abuse they faced.

In March this year, the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sex Abuse said survivors should receive financial compensation within 12 months.

But the British government has failed to set up any scheme providing redress.

Between 1945-70, thousands of children were separated from their families and sent to Australia and Zimbabwe.

About 4,000 children – as young as three years old – were sent across the British Empire to have better lives, and to strengthen the British population abroad. Many say they were sexually, emotionally and physically abused.

The government was primarily responsible for the scheme, which was managed by the church and a number of charities.

‘They took my childhood’

John Glynn, who was sent to a Christian Brothers institution in Western Australia when he was eight years old, is one of the 100 former migrants to bring the case forward.

At the institution in Clontarf, he was told he was not loved by his family in Britain. Through his seven years with the Christian Brothers he was beaten brutally with a cane, and also sexually abused.

“As I get older it gets worse,” the 74-year-old says.

“I think about that a lot now. They took my childhood from me. They took my country from me, my heritage.”

The abuse scandal of the British children sent abroad

By Tom Symonds

Buildings at Bindoon were constructed by migrant children

For several decades, the UK sent children across the world to new lives in institutions where many were abused and used as forced labour. It’s a scandal that is still having repercussions now.

Imagine the 1950s, in the years before air travel became commonplace or the internet dominated our lives. Imagine being a child of those times, barely aware of life even in the next town. An orphan perhaps, living in a British children’s home.

Now imagine being told that shortly you would board a ship for somewhere called Australia, to begin a new life in a sunlit wonderland. For good. No choice.

According to the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) investigation, many suffered sexual and emotional abuse, as well as forced labour. Some were also wrongly told they were orphans, depriving them of the opportunity of meeting their birth parents.

The Department of Health and Social Care says it is still committed to a timely response.

But despite the IICSA’s recommendation in March, the government is yet to set up a compensation scheme for the surviving 2,000 child migrants.

BBC correspondent Sanchia Berg said many “of the migrants feel time is running out” as most are elderly, and some are frail.

Since March, 14 of the survivors have died.

Lawyer Alan Collins, who is representing the victims, said: “The government needs to step up to the plate and bring into force its redress scheme.

“Compensation can never put matters right, that’s impossible and it would be insulting to suggest otherwise.

“But it is action, it is a recognition that meets the words that have been spoken by the politicians.”

In 2010, then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised on behalf of the British government for sending British children abroad.