Integration of Singaporeans and new immigrants will require more than just the National Integration Council alone, members of the audience said after the ministerial forum.
Though most of the audience interviewed were positive about the role of the council in fostering integration, some remained skeptical about the extent to which the council alone can effect changes in social and cultural integration.
Mr Pang Li Jian, alumnus from NTU Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, said forming such an organisation will lead to integration but it will not be significant.
“It is hard to teach old dogs new tricks,” the Singaporean added, expressing his concerns regarding the inflexible views of the local elderly towards foreigners.
Final year Communication Studies student Ms Toh Lee Hoon also shared the same view. “The general sense I get from hawker talks especially with the elder folk is that they view foreign workers as rivals, instead of ‘team members’,” she said. “They do not see the reasons behind the influx of foreign workers.”
During the forum, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke at length about the issue of integration and the coming initiatives of the council as one of the government’s “greater efforts at fostering integration.”
The council, set up in April 2009, comprised members from the public and private sector, as well as the community. Its goal will be to ‘drive the integration agenda forward through a concerted effort’ according to Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng earlier this year.
The Straits Times reported in February that 20,513 foreigners took up citizenship while a further 79,167 took up permanent residency last year – an increase from 17,334 who took up citizenship and 63,627 who became PRs in 2007.
In addition, the paper also reported of a $10 million fund that organisations can tap for projects to help immigrants and Singaporeans to get to know each other better.
As integration becomes a pressing issue, many whom the Enquirer spoke to gave suggestions to make integration more effective.
“The initiative will be more effective if it targets the younger segment of the society,” said Mr Pang. He believes that children, when imparted with a strong acceptance towards foreign friends and cultures since young, will grow up and continue this drive of social integration to their children as well.
Meanwhile Mr Goh Wei Han, a doctoral candidate in Computer Engineering believes that the desire to integrate has to come from within, local and foreigner alike. “Internally, they must want to open up and mingle with one another,” the Malaysian said.
“All parties must understand the importance of cultural integration and are willing to work together towards achieving it,” said final year Business student Mr Hindri Susanto. The Indonesian added that the government would need cooperation from both Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans.