Monday 9 July 2012

PM to new citizens: Make more effort to integrate

PM urges new citizens to pick up local customs and get involved in the community
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 8 Jul 2012

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged new Singapore citizens to try to integrate into society here, addressing an issue that has contributed to tensions between locals and new citizens.

In a speech to about 200 newly minted citizens yesterday, he stressed the importance of adapting to local 'norms' which help define the Singapore identity.

'I hope that now you have become a citizen, you will integrate more closely into society,' he said. 'Do not just mix among yourselves, or with recent immigrants. Make friends with Singaporeans - your neighbours, colleagues - and with your children's schoolmates, and pick up Singaporean customs, lifestyles, norms and social rules.'

PM Lee, who is also an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, was speaking in English and Mandarin at a citizenship ceremony at Teck Ghee Community Club.

His call to new citizens comes amid increasing tension between locals and new arrivals as well as permanent residents and foreign workers. While some Singaporeans resent foreigners for competing for jobs, others are unhappy that some new citizens appear unwilling to adapt to local society, and stick to their own customs and habits.

Yesterday, Mr Lee appeared to address this issue, as he spoke to new citizens from countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Turkey. Behaviour that is normal back in their home country, he told them, 'may not be considered socially acceptable in Singapore'.

In April, the PM warned that a divide between Singaporeans and new arrivals would stand in the way of building a cohesive society.

'Both sides have to make the effort,' he said yesterday, as he urged those who had recently moved here to put more effort into adapting to the Singapore way of life.

'Those who have grown up here... have over a long period of time become not just Chinese, Indians, or Malays, but Singaporeans,' he said. 'And our new citizens, that is what you must become too.'

From 2005 to 2010, Singapore added between 17,334 and 20,513 new citizens to the population each year. Last year, the number dropped to 15,777.

Highlighting one way to integrate, he encouraged new citizens to be involved in the community. They could volunteer in schools, welfare organisations or self-help groups, he said, and encouraged Singaporeans to help them integrate and settle in.

Mr Lee then held up as an example Mr Myo San, a Myanmar-born businessman who became a Singapore citizen in 2008. The 50- year-old, who has two daughters aged 16 and 12, had moved to Singapore in 1997.

After he took up citizenship, he joined a Teck Ghee Residents' Committee, and later became its vice-chairman and then chairman.

Mr Myo San, however, said it was hard to get new citizens involved in community events.

He said: 'Many say they are not free when we ask them during our house visits. We tell them, 'When you are free, even just one time, come down and take part'.'

Grassroots volunteer Patrick Koh, 48, agreed, noting that getting new citizens of older age to be involved was more difficult. Holding more community events for children, he added, is a way to get the parents involved too.

Chinese geophysicist Xin Kefeng, 37, whose wife Chen Rongli, 36, and two sons became Singapore citizens yesterday, suggested that integration was more likely to take place at the office, where people spend most of their time.

But there were some who were ready to take up the PM's call.

Beijing-born Mr Xu Tao, 36, a project consultant in the chemicals industry who also became a Singaporean yesterday, said: 'Most of my friends are Singaporean. I want to be rooted here.'

PM Lee: Help new Singaporeans fit in

'We are proud to consider ourselves an open and multiracial society, and we will reach out to the new arrivals - at home, at work, and social places - and we will help the new arrivals to fit in.'
PM LEE HSIEN LOONG, on how both Singaporeans and new citizens must make the effort in integration

New citizen: Bonding as one people

'I have always felt I was one of them here. I have been here for so long, I was a part of it, but yet not completely part of it, until now.'
MR MIKE RAJEN, 53, a deputy production manager from Malaysia, who became a Singapore citizen yesterday after living here for 34 years

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