david cameron.jpg
Photograph: EPA/ANDY RAIN

Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday announced new measures to compel Muslim migrants to improve their English skills, saying the move was linked to "building a more integrated, cohesive, one-nation country."

A 20-million-pound (31-million-dollar) fund will pay for English courses for many Muslim migrants, particularly women, while some staying in Britain on spouse visas will be required to take language tests, Cameron told BBC radio's Today programme.

He said the move was designed to help migrants integrate better and reduce the chances of them being drawn to extremism. Cameron did not say when the programme will begin or how it will be funded.

"I'm not saying there's some sort of causal connection between not speaking English and becoming an extremist - of course not, that would be a ridiculous thing to say," Cameron said.

"But if you're not able to speak English [and] you're not able to integrate, you may find, therefore, that you have challenges understanding what your identity is and you could be more susceptible to the extremist message that comes from Daesh (Islamic State)," he said.

Cameron's comments drew a mixed response from British Muslim groups, with the London-based Ramadhan Foundation accusing him of "using Muslims as a political football."

The Muslim Council of Britain welcomed the push to fund English learning but said it was concerned by "the language used to make such calls, and links to securitisation."

"The prime minister is absolutely right in wanting English to be taught more widely. Mosques and Muslim civil society would be eager to play their part by hosting English language classes, as many mosques do," said Shuja Shafi, the head of the Muslim Council.

"But the prime minister's aim to have English more widely spoken and for better integration falls at the first hurdle if he is to link it to security and single out Muslim women to illustrate his point," Shafi said.

Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said Cameron was "once again using British Muslims as a political football to score cheap points to appear tough."

"There are three million Muslims in this country and the prime minister chooses to focus on a very small minority of extremists when clearly the majority of British Muslims reject extremism," Shafiq said.

"The Ramadhan Foundation has been clear for many years that we face an increased risk from terrorism and an ideology of hatred, the best way to confront it is to build support within Muslims and support the work done across the country and not lashing out and denigrating Muslims," he said.

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