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By James Grubel
CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised on Monday for years of abuse and pain suffered by thousands of orphans and children sent to Australia from Britain, often without the knowledge of their parents.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is also set to apologise to around 7,000 children from state institutions who were shipped to Australia between 1930 and 1970 under the old Child Migrants Programme.
Rudd told an audience of about 900 former orphans, known as the Forgotten Australians, that the abandoned policy was a shameful and ugly period in history which led to suffering, emotional damage and an absence of love and care.
"We look back with shame that so many of you were left cold, hungry and alone and with nowhere to hide and nobody, absolutely nobody, to whom to turn," Rudd said in a speech at parliament.
"We look back with shame at how those with power were allowed to abuse those who had none."
Many poor children were sent to Commonwealth countries, mainly Australia and Canada, with promises of a better life. But according to the charity the Child Migrants Trust, many of those sent to Australia ended up being abused, dumped in institutions or used as labourers on farms against their wishes.
Rudd's apology, broadcast live on national television, covered around 500,000 people who had campaigned for such a speech for decades.
It also followed Rudd's 2008 apology to the so-called Stolen Generation of Aborigines, who were taken from their families to be raised in institutions and white homes under assimilation policies which ran until the late 1960s.
Among those in parliament's Great Hall for Monday's apology was former senator Andrew Murray, who was born in Britain but sent to Zimbabwe as a child migrant at the age of four.
Rudd said he hoped the apology would help heal some of the lingering wounds. But he stopped short of offering compensation, instead offering more counselling, and help for the National Library to collect individual stories.
Advocates for child migrants and those raised in institutions welcomed Rudd's apology as an important step in healing some of the damage.
"In issuing this apology, the Australian government recognises and acknowledges that what happened to us was wrong. This was a system of 'care' which has had devastating effects on half a million Australians," said Leonie Sheedy, an advocate for those who grew up in institutions.
"We hope it will help to ease our pain, and that of our families, and lighten the burden on each and every one of us."