Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cracks appearing between Singaporeans and Immigrants

Cracks are already appearing between Singaporeans and the new settlers who have come as permanent residents, not just between different ethnic groups, but also within races.

Ill feeling towards foreigners is beginning to surface in this most unlikely of places – cosmopolitan Singapore – attributed to the record influx of immigrants. By tradition, Singaporeans with their own migrant history have been open about foreigners from east or west, which has led to a recent mass arrival of settlers and visitors.

More than a million have arrived, mostly during the past decade, and although they have brightened the economy, they are also starting to incur a social cost as well as increasingly sparking friction with locals. Despite land reclamation, Singapore remains a small city, one of the densest in the world. The pressure is testing the tolerance level of Singaporeans, who are struggling to cope with a widening income gap and rising prices. Already one third of the 4.68 million people here are foreigners, not to mention the nine million tourists who arrive annually.

It has prompted warnings from leading figures, the latest from Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong. According to him, cracks are already appearing between Singaporeans and the new settlers who have come as permanent residents “not just between different ethnic groups, but also within races.” People are showing less trust towards one another. Goh said “the new residents did not mix easily with Singaporeans” and the latter, in turn, “tended to leave the new-comers alone.”

Earlier, retired and respected civil servant Ngiam Tong Dow said if he had his way, Singapore would think twice before pushing for a 6.5 million population. Questioning the rationale, Ngiam said in an interview published in the governing party newsletter that Singapore does not need numbers but talent.

The 70-year-old said: “If we do it wrongly, it will change our economic and social system.” He stressed the need to appeal to people’s hearts. “Otherwise, Singapore will become just a six-star hotel where guests stay in good times and flee when times are bad. We will never become a nation,” he said.

Singapore’s mainly middle class, stressed by a widening wealth divide, is deeply worried about the large inflow. “Foreigners are viewed as threats to locals’ livelihoods, they are viewed with suspicion and envy,” a surfer posted.

A pivotal part of immigration is the successful luring of wealthy foreigners to settle here. It is doing wonders for the economy, but is also aggravating inflation and widening the income divide. If Singapore were not careful, it could split into two or three parts, warns Foreign Minister George Yeo. “And that third Singapore is the big chunk of people squeezed in the centre, between the poor and the rich,” he said.

“This group is the most vulnerable. If they feel the high life is out of their reach, frustration can set in. And being more mobile than the lower-end group, they can be tempted to vote with their suitcases. That is an option the other group doesn’t have.”

These warnings show growing government awareness that the speed to expand the population, if not the strategy itself, may threaten social harmony. Several incidents between foreigners and locals have stirred emotions, reflecting the current sensitivities.

These are minor everyday happenings in a crowded city that would have gained little attention if they had involved only locals, but were blown up into hot issues because foreigners were involved. In the latest case, Singaporean Michelle Quek said a Caucasian and his wife or girlfriend attacked her and her friend after her schoolbag “accidentally hit the woman”.

She said a quarrel ensued, which resulted in the Westerner holding up her friend by the arms, lifting her off the floor and dropping her onto the floor. She herself was punched on the nose. A couple of angry bystanders confronted the Westerner and stopped him from leaving, nearly causing more mayhem.

Singaporeans were also enraged when three young British tourists mocked an elderly rickshaw rider because he couldn’t pedal fast enough for them, then posted a video of the struggling old man on You-Tube.

Titled “The Slowest Taxi in SE Asia” it showed the trio squeezing into the small rickshaw, poking fun at the 76-year-old rider throughout the 10-minute trip. One remarked, “God, he’s in fifth gear” and every one laughed. They ran off without paying. Scores of Singaporeans bombarded the visitors, expressing what they would like to do to them. “Don’t come back to Singapore,” wrote one. “We will be waiting for you.”

Westerners are, of course, not the only people who are affected. In fact the bigger issue is the tens of thousands who have flocked here from China and India. Last year a record 70,000 foreigners were admitted; this year the figure is set to be higher.

Verbal insults have become a frequent phenomenon on the Internet between Singaporeans and some of the better-educated permanent residents. So far there have been no major incidents but the underlying resentment has given rise to fears that a small incident may one day flare up into big trouble.

Some aliens find it difficult to find accommodation; others get a cool reception from office colleagues. The government and community representatives have organised citizenship ceremonies and social gatherings to make the newcomers feel welcome. Leaders often extol the role of foreign talent in nation building.

Respected blogger redbean wrote of a growing potential for xenophobic tension. “For those who have to face the foreigners daily in all his living activities, when every citizen has to fight for his space and the air he breathes, tension is likely to build up and break out.”

The article was written by Seah Chiang Nee and obtained from The Star


onlooker said...

And Malaysia might be a pot that already boiled over.:) Like the part in the news where a minority want to claim money $$$ ,for reparation, For things done to them in the past. And 3 were detained.The star gave a poor coverage on this sadly enough.The key word for argument sake is Son of the Soil which I would not elaborate. Benefits are given to them.

Anonymous said...

prepare for more LEGAL PRESSURE as it raise the level of demands and expectations on its people.

no wonder we are one of the least happiest people on the surface of the earth despite our 'progress'.

and there can be no change unless there is a real paradigm shift.