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Asylum rules altered for 'safe' India

London, Jan. 19: The British government now recognises India as a 'safe country' which respects human rights, it is clear from a statement made yesterday by the home office.

The ministry, which is responsible for immigration and asylum, announced: 'Asylum applicants from India with clearly unfounded claims will soon have no right of appeal in the UK.'

This marks a shift from the 1980s when Khalistani militancy was at its height and Britain had to cope with the problem of Sikhs seeking asylum in the UK. Others already in the country could not be deported to India because they argued in the courts that their lives would be at risk if they returned.

Later, the two governments signed an extradition treaty as terrorism came to be recognised as a greater threat to both countries.

The home office said: 'India is to be added to the list of safe countries from which asylum claims which are refused and certified as clearly unfounded will be determined quickly, and cannot be appealed before removal.'

What this means in practice is that unless an asylum-seeker has a good case, he or she will be sent packing back to India without the right of appeal. If an appeal has to be lodged, it can only be done from India. In contrast, those seeking asylum from countries not on the 'safe' list will retain the right of appeal.

Asylum is a controversial political issue in Britain, where the government is under pressure to cut the numbers seeking or granted asylum.

Announcing the change, home office minister Des Browne said: 'Adding India to the list of safe countries is part of our drive to prevent failed asylum-seekers from attempting to frustrate their removal from the UK by unnecessarily prolonging the appeals process.'

He added: 'Introducing a safe country list has resulted in a significant cut in the number of asylum applicants from these countries and this is just one of a number of steps we are taking to tackle abuse of the system.'

Browne included one qualification: 'We have for the time being suspended enforced removals of failed asylum seekers to the southern coast of India, in line with our overall policy on areas affected by the tsunami. India, however, is generally a safe country where people are not routinely fleeing for their lives, and very few people need our protection under the refugee convention.'

He explained: 'While we will of course continue to make all decisions on a case by case basis, it is only right that if an asylum seeker does not require our protection, they should return home when it is safe to do so.'

Indian diplomats say the ruling means 'people coming from India cannot say they have political exploitation'.

While keeping out undesirables, the home office is trying to make efforts to bring about a more cohesive society by encouraging Asians and blacks to learn more about Britain's heritage.

Last week, David Bell, the head of Ofsted, the schools' watchdog body, criticised Islamic faith schools for allegedly failing to teach children enough about other faiths. He felt that they should not be allowed to threaten the coherence of British society.

He was accused of 'Islamophobia' by the Association of Muslim Schools when he singled out Islamic schools for failing to teach pupils their obligations to British society. The Muslim Council of Britain described Bell's remarks as 'highly irresponsible'.

A new strategy, 'Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society', unveiled today by Charles Clarke, David Blunkett's successor as home secretary, is to examine ways in which government departments and local authorities could promote greater opportunities for ethnic minorities.

Clarke said: 'A successful future for Britain depends more than ever on the ability of people from all backgrounds to live and work together in strong and cohesive communities. We also want to encourage a sense of common belonging and shared identity so that in Britain today, no communities or individuals feel left behind.'

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