Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and Opposition leader Joseph Muscat this evening apologised to 315 Maltese child migrants for the suffering many of them endured after they migrated to Australia between 1950 and 1965.

The apology was issued during a statement in Parliament ahead of the Convention of the Maltese who live abroad, which opens in Malta on Sunday.

"As a mature society, we recognise that despite good intentions, there were many of these child migrants who underwent hardship. The government feels this is an appropriate moment for Parliament to apologise for the hardship which these Maltese brethren endured. We also wish to assure them of our respect for their achievements, and we rejoice at their successes," Dr Gonzi said.

He explained that at that time, Malta was still a colony going through hard times after emerging from the war. Young children (from Malta and other countries) had been transferred to Australia under a scheme launched by the Australian government.

The intentions were good since the purpose of the scheme was for the children to be given an education and a good future, Dr Gonzi said

He also recalled how two years ago he inaugurated a monument to the child migrants at the Valletta Waterfront, from where many of the children departed Malta.

The 310 Maltese child migrants were sent to Australia through the efforts of Maltese political and ecclesiastical authorities, with the consent of parents or guardians. It later emerged that they were forced to work in institutions and many were not educated. A number of them suffered physical and sexual abuse.

The governments of Australia and the UK, among others, have also apologised for the distress caused to the children.

In his statement, Dr Gonzi reiterated the government's commitment to support efforts by Maltese living abroad to promote Maltese language and culture. He said that during the convention, the government would announce measures with this purpose in mind.

He also listed initiatives taken to help Maltese emigrants, including the introduction of dual citizenship which had benefited 16,000 Maltese emigrants.

Opposition leader Joseph Muscat said the Opposition joined the government in the apology, even if the hardship called to the emigrants was not intentional.

He also stressed that the government should make every effort to help Maltese emigrants to promote Maltese language and culture abroad.

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