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Birmingham J&P Commission focus on migration

 The critical issue of migration in England and Wales was the focus of the Fourth Annual Assembly of the Birmingham Justice & Peace Commission, held at St Peter's Catholic Secondary School, Solihull, in the West Midlands on Saturday 11 October, writes Peter Jennings.

Bishop William Kenney, CP, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, and member of the Justice & Peace Commission, gave the opening reflection on the Assembly theme, 'There Are No Strangers', responding to the Gospel of St Matthew: "I was a stranger and you welcomed me".

In a thought-provoking key-note address, Francis Davis, from the Von Hugel Institute in Cambridge, contrasted widespread perceptions regarding migrants created by both the media and politicians with the reality that was very different.

Mr Davis emphasised that the Catholic Church is radical in its insistence on the right of human beings to migrate in search of a means to sustain their family.

He stressed: "There is a challenge here. The Church expresses the care of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as a priority but needs to match this with the commitment that so many of its parish priests show by giving advice, resources and support that cannot be replaced by words."

The other keynote speaker was Shari Brown, Project Coordinator of Restore, Birmingham, an important initiative of Birmingham Churches Together, that supports refugees & asylum seekers.

Shari Brown displayed a number of newspaper headlines that referred to "Sponging Asylum Seekers" and included statements as: "Most immigrants are not genuine asylum seekers but young men leaving their families and looking for money."

She told delegates that because of this negative publicity for the term "asylum seekers" the emphasis was now on speaking of "migrants" and "seeking sanctuary".

Shari Brown said: "Our faith challenges us to consider how we ensure new-comers are made to feel welcome and included. Restore gives priority to befriending because many refugees feel that nobody knows them here."

More than 150 delegates from parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Birmingham, other Churches and Justice & Peace groups and organisations, then split into workshops and discussion groups.

The wide range of subjects covered included: migrants, campaigning, homelessness, violence and supporting and befriending asylum seekers.

Bishop Kenney led a workshop: "How we can respond to the Bishop's Conference Pastoral Document on Migrants".