British child migrants launch Australia case

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Former child migrants from Britain launched a class action lawsuit against the Australian government Tuesday, seeking compensation for the alleged physical and sexual abuse they suffered.

So far 69 former residents of the Fairbridge Farm School have joined the case against the Australian and New South Wales governments and the Fairbridge Foundation which ran the school, law firm Slater & Gordon said.

"The essence of our case is that the defendant organisations permitted an abusive environment to exist within the school," lawyer Ken Fowlie told AFP.

Fowlie said that while the Australian government had publicly apologised to former child migrants, no compensation arrangements had been made either nationally or in New South Wales state.

The case launched in Sydney's Supreme Court Tuesday is believed to be the first class action against an Australian government connected with child migration -- a practice under which thousands were sent here last century.

Fowlie said the former child migrants who were taken to Fairbridge Farm in the central west New South Wales town of Molong did not want to take the matter to court, but no other solution could be reached.

"The former residents of the school are really left with no alternative if they want to press their claims, than to do so in court," Fowlie said.

"At this point in their life they would prefer that they didn't have to endure a long court fight and then relive, very likely, aspects of what happened.

"They would prefer an approach that was more sympathetic to their circumstances."

Lawyers in the class action say hundreds of students, some as young as four, were sent from Britain to the Fairbridge Farm School between 1938 and 1974, often never seeing their parents again.

It is alleged that many of them were physically and sexually abused by staff and have suffered lifelong psychiatric and physical injuries as a result.

The number of child migrants to Australia is not known, but the government estimates that between 1947 and 1967, between 7,000 and 10,000 children were sent to Australia, with most placed in institutional care.

© 2011 AFP

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