Former Minister Lee Kuan Yew has asserted that Singapore needs more immigrants to boost its population. He has justified this by pointing out that Singaporeans are not reproducing at a rate which can sustain our population. He further alluded to his belief that population shrinkage will lead to economic stagnation.
I have no quarrel with immigration. Singapore is after all a nation made up of immigrants. In fact, I believe that most Singaporeans do not oppose immigration for the sake of it. The root cause of the frustration expressed by Singaporeans is not at immigration per se but the rate of it and the policies surrounding it.
Many Singaporeans see the influx of immigrants as a threat. Not just to their jobs but to their day to day lives as well. On our overstretched public transport, they appear to compete with us for seats. On the food front, they have allegedly insulted our curry. The list of apparent insults goes on.
What this stems from is not hatred for the foreigners themselves but a lack of clarity on the immigration policies and insufficient assimilation on the part of the foreigners. Assimilation is a gradual process which wholesale and fast paced immigration does not aid. Human relationships take time to foster and the shortened time caused by reactionary immigration en masse breeds unnecessary suspicion. Singaporeans feel that their space is encroached and foreigners in turn find their hosts unaccommodating and unfriendly. This atmosphere is negative and creates an “us versus them” mentality which is neither healthy nor beneficial for the country.
Mr Lee has said that without immigration, our economy would stagnate. I have no doubt that he meant well for Singapore when he said that. A glittering economy that grows by leaps and bounds every year is his vision for Singapore. To him, our success is measured by GDP figures and that is his version of prosperity. But what about the rest of Singapore? What is our measure for success?
Of late, many people I speak to appear wistful. They long for the days when Singapore was less crowded and when life was less stressful. They yearn for the days when Singaporeans were more communal and less antagonistic towards foreigners. We did not have as many beautiful buildings then and we did not play host to the F1. We were certainly not the international city that we are today but were we more content?
The current xenophobia is but a manifestation of a deeper issue. The bigger picture is our collective vision for Singapore. Mr Lee has his vision and his vision is one for continued economic growth. Singaporeans must think for themselves what they really want and vote for the government they feel will best fulfil their vision of Singapore.
It is our country and our future that is at stake. Mr Lee’s vision may not be wrong but it may be different from what Singaporeans really want and that is the issue that must be examined.