July 6, 2009

No magic wand

Straits Times, July 6, 2009
by Sue-Ann Chia

It needs 3 parties: New residents and S'poreans to bond, and Govt to provide framework.

On his visit to Punggol Central on Sunday, Mr Shanmugam encouraged both Singaporeans and new residents to mingle and get to know one another.
HOW to get new immigrants integrated into Singapore society? Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who is also Second Home Affairs Minister, said on Sunday the Government cannot be the 'total solution' to this.
Rather, the tricky problem takes three parties to solve - Singaporeans, who have to be welcoming; new immigrants, who have to adapt to a new culture; and the Government, which has to provide a framework for people to bond.
Mr Shanmugam stressed this three-way partnership at an hour-long dialogue with Punggol Central residents, in response to a question from a resident who wanted to know what can be done to integrate the growing pool of new immigrants here.
Last year, 20,513 foreigners became Singapore citizens, while 79,167 took up permanent residency.
It is the people themselves - Singaporeans and new residents - who have to mingle and forge friendships with one another, said Mr Shanmugam. Singaporeans, he said, should welcome 'newer residents with an open heart and help them integrate, bring them in'. This is already taking place in housing estates, he noted.
Mr Charles Chong, an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, had last month estimated that up to 10 per cent of the residents in some blocks could be permanent residents or new citizens.
Noting how Singaporeans and new residents have come together to be involved in the programme for his ministerial visit, Mr Shanmugam added: 'That is a way integration takes place, at the ground level.'
As for new settlers, his advice was that they should 'take the attitude that they want to integrate'. He added: 'When we approve PRs, we look for people who can integrate, and can add value. We want to bring in people who will create more jobs...help the economy and all of us.'
The Government, on its part, will also find ways to help people interact, such as by setting up business organisations and social networks, he added.
The National Integration Council was set up earlier this year, headed by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports. Mr Shanmugam, who is part of the council, noted that there is no such thing as instant integration. 'You can't just wave a magic wand and say, 'okay, integration'. It takes many years,' he said.

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