Howard names 'white list'

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The Independent Online

Home Affairs Correspondent

Michael Howard was last night accused of introducing by the back door a controversial "white list" of countries - including Nigeria and Algeria - from where claims for asylum would be less likely to succeed.

The Home Secretary has published in a letter to refugee groups a list of 35 countries - which also include India, Pakistan, the Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Chad - from where asylum seekers will go on a fast track system, which will enable decisions to be made on their case within five days.

Critics say there must be a presumption of safety about these countries - many of which appear on other EU lists - otherwise they would not be singled out. Amnesty International, the Refugee Legal Centre and other agencies say refugees from these countries will not have time to prepare their cases or get proper legal representation, risking their expulsion back to possible persecution.

News of the list emerged as the Commission for Racial Equality rounded on the Government over its plans to cut benefit for asylum seekers, claiming it will force thousands onto the streets and damage race relations.

Earlier this week, Mr Howard announced the setting up of a "white list" of countries regarded as safe, and while not revealing which countries are on it, said that Nigeria - at the centre of international outrage over the execution of environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa - would not be. Sources suggested it would include relatively non-controversial countries like Poland and Zimbabwe.

But the letter specifically excludes Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, where there is no debate about human rights abuses

Richard Dunstan, refugee officer for Amnesty International said: "It is clear that applicants from these countries are going to be summarily refused asylum after a cursory examination of their claims. That can only increase of unjust refusals and therefore genuine refugees being returned to face imprisonment, torture or death."