A funny history of S’pore immigration

Dear Dr George,

I refer to the 11 Sept 2010 Straits Times report of your comments on the book “Divercity Singapore”.

You said a sense of history is missing from the hot topic of immigration as though it will fundamentally change our perspectives. It will not. But that’s not because we ignore history but because history shows that more often than not, mass migration occurs when there is a lot of unexploited land available, not when the land is already over crowded. The call for white settlers to “Go West” to colonise the American Prairies came at a time when the Wild Wild West was still largely unexplored territory. Did the Americans continue to “Go West” forever? No, “Go West” stopped once the West has been colonised and conquered.

Similarly, the wave of women immigration to Singapore after the Great Depression also came at a time when land was still relatively plentiful. Thus, while immigration is not a new issue, immigration then was more beneficial than detrimental to life in Singapore. Conversely, the sudden influx of immigration today has dire consequences that may outweigh any economic benefit that it brings.

While it is true that almost everyone of us had a forefather who didn’t belong at first, it doesn’t mean that our children should necessarily be like us. So while the journey from outsider to citizen has been a big part of our history, why should it be a big part of our future?


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