The National Catholic Refugee Forum was launched at St Chad's cathedral in Birmingham on Saturday. Archbishop Vincent Nicholls welcomed the participants, who had travelled from all over England and Wales for the event. He went on to pay tribute to all working with refugees and asylum seekers - a task within the Church which he declared to be increasingly necessary, though "difficult and distressing". Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue, chair of the Office for Refugee Policy of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, sent his apologies to the meeting. His message for World Migration Day (3-12-2000) was read out by the Archbishop. Philip Williams from the Refugee Council in Birmingham addressed the participants in the morning. He explained how the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act had made things much more difficult for those seeking asylum in the UK. He shared some heart-rending stories of the treatment meted out to asylum seekers. Mr Williams summed up the operation of the act not quite as the 'fairer, faster, firmer' regime it was hailed as by the government. He said: "The Act is certainly firmer but certainly not fairer. If it does indeed provide for a faster determination procedure then that is to be welcomed." Mr Williams pointed out that the three aims of the Act are to "discourage asylum seekers from coming to the UK; to contain costs (though costs will be shown to be more under this system than the old one); and to relieve the pressure on London and the South-East of England". In the afternoon, Frank Regan SSC provided a very thought-provoking reflection on the apostolate to refugees and asylum seekers. He stated that the Catholic Refugee Forum and its members are starting to create a "Christian counter-culture or a new ethos" based on a right relationship with God and creation. The event ended with a liturgy.
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