There had been a recent increase in the number of PRs and citizenships in Singapore and while this is good for nation renewal, the issue of assimilating them into the Singapore society has almost never been a non-issue, as far as I know. Most people who eventually apply for citizens have a mindset to settle down here and hence are usually more proactive into blending into the society, while the others who apply for PRs – usually for the sake of work, may not put as much time blending in.

This usually results in conflicts between the locals and foreigners, at times resulting in a bad aftertaste. Take for instance 2 recent incidents between Singaporeans and foreigners – the Briton and the Trishaw man incident, where the latter was bullied by the Britons, one of whom, Bo Davis had since apologised, and another incident involving a Singaporean girl, Michelle Quek, who was assaulted by an oversized Caucasian who thought that she had assaulted his girlfriend first.

Both incidents reflect some disparity between Singaporeans and foreigners – as with other countries. However, what happens when such differences in culture are left unchecked? Foreigners may sometimes bring their culture into Singapore which may in turn not be welcomed here. This could be in the form of behaviour or belief, which left unaddressed may lead to social discrimination and typecasting.

One such example is the assimilation of the PRC Chinese into the local culture, where due to local TV dramatization, has resulted in the local Chinese looking at PRC women with disdain, usually thinking of them as people who have came empty-handed and in search of a husband to marry and settle down so that they can have a better life compared to their hometowns. This view had 2 major flaws.

Firstly, which immigrant do not go to a better country to settle down? Naturally, if Singapore is able to provide for them, why wouldn’t they settle down eventually?

Secondly, they do eventually contribute back to society – sometimes complementing roles held by Singaporeans or even be able to top up the brain drain that Singapore is now potentially suffering from.

Obviously, some Singaporeans may view such influx as a threat to their rice bowl – however, Singaporeans sometimes fail to realise that PRCs, as a foreign talent, do not usually get employment priority over Singaporeans – that is to say, if a Singapoeran and a PRC apply for a job, there’s local:foreigner ratio that the employer has to abide too. Of course unless you are talking about hiring PRCs vs the local men who have to do ICT. That might give a skewed result.

Hence, the key challenge is really 2-fold – for the PRCs to adapt to the local way of life and for Singaporeans to accept PRCs as foreign talent who will eventually help to contribute back to society in 1 way or another. Of course, I am being too simplistic in my views here and there are many more implications. However, it does seem like (i) foreign influx to Singapore is imminent just like how some Singaporeans would want to work overseas and (ii) as long as the renewal rate is not on par, Singapore will have to get their people elsewhere.

WITH the number of new citizens and PRs expected to outstrip last year’s record figure of 70,500, cracks are already appearing not just between different ethnic groups, but also within races.

This sobering observation came from Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who was speaking at the 10th anniversary of the Community Development Councils (CDCs) on Friday, as he outlined the challenges facing them.

Mr Goh related how there are already signs of Singaporeans lowering their trust towards one another.

At his annual reception in his Marine Parade constituency for new citizens and PRs, Mr Goh noticed how “the new residents did not mix easily with Singaporeans” and Singaporeans, in turn, “tended to leave them alone”.

And within the Chinese and Indian communities, crevices are deepening.

Said Mr Goh: “In terms of accent, culture and habit, Chinese Singaporeans are different from their PRC counterparts. As for Indians, I have heard that the Indians from India tend to bring their caste culture with them, and that some of them sometimes come across as sikit atas (slight air of superiority) to our local Indians.

“On the other hand, some Indian Singaporeans also display the same attitude towards the many low-skilled workers from India.”

Citing the studies of Harvard University political science dean Robert Putnam, Mr Goh said that the phenomenon of “hunkering down” takes place as a society becomes more diverse and multi-cultural. Left unchecked, it would reduce social solidarity and erode community trust. For example, people will have a lower likelihood of giving to charity or volunteering.

And as Singapore must continue to open its doors to new immigrants to boost its population and economy, Mr Goh hopes the CDCs would “find ways to bond new Singaporeans and PRs to our people”.

He also identified two other social divides that must be bridged: That between less well-off and more successful Singaporeans, and also the gap between the elderly and the young.

Said Mr Goh: “We must involve more successful Singaporeans in a concerted community effort to help the poor and the dysfunctional families.”

Likewise, Singaporeans have a critical role to play to help senior citizens lead active lives.

Apart from employers, the mindset of Singaporeans towards their elderly parents must also change.

He added: “Children sometimes discourage their own elderly parents from leading active lives … . In truth, the 60-year-old of today is very different from the 60-year-old of 20 years ago.”

Mapping out the priorities for the CDCs, Mr Goh said they must enlarge the common space which brings together Singaporeans and immigrants.

On top of intra-group bonding within faith-based organisations or various professional and interest groups, the CDCs have to “encourage inter-mingling” between the disparate groups.

CDCs should also engage in “preventive intervention”, instead of providing “downstream pain relief”.

One positive example is the Home Ownership Plus Education programme, which helps families become self-reliant through housing and training grants, as well as education bursaries for their children to help them break out of the poverty cycle.

Likewise, efforts to promote active ageing should begin before retirement, said Mr Goh.

While there are existing programmes to address these social divides, Mr Goh called on the CDCs to do so “holistically”.

Otherwise, he said, Singapore’s social unity would be “eroded gradually and imperceptibly but with long-term implications on the harmony of our society”.

Article obtained from on 18th November 2007

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