It was a meeting that included members of new immigrant associations, local groups and government officials. About 100 people gathered at the Orchard Hotel on Nov 16 to discuss integration.
At the conference, organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), some participants said that foreign children who attend local schools are better integrated, but a handful said expatriates might not choose to do so as they have to prepare for the day when their contracts end and they have to leave Singapore.
The participants also discussed the role of new immigrant groups, with president of the Singapore Pakistani Association Danish Sultan asking if such groups hinder integration by creating comfort zones for new immigrants.
But Mr Vincent Schoon, a board member of racial harmony advocacy group OnePeople.sg, disagreed.
He said: "If we decide to stop all the various associations that deal with racial and religious harmony and the integration process, it will fail completely and we will be setting ourselves back 20 to 30 years."
Another panellist, Ministry of Health Holdings corporate communications division director Pradeep Paul, who is the former editor of tabla!, told the gathering that giving up one's citizenship is not easy and one has to make several sacrifices to do so.
IPS director Janadas Devan said the conference was held to get people talking about the problems of integration which, if not dealt with, could result in Singapore heading the way of some Western countries which have seen a growth in nationalistic politics.
"The fastest-growing political party in every one of the Scandinavian countries now is a fascist party, a neo-nazi party," said Mr Janadas. He hopes it will not happen here but said there are no guarantees.
In the lead-up to the conference, IPS held four closed-door dialogues with more than 40 leaders of new immigrant associations and local community bodies in April and May.
At these sessions, the new immigrants said they were drawn to Singapore's quality of life and political stability, but found the city state too competitive and Westernised, with little emphasis on culture and history.
Presenting a summary of the closed-door dialogues, IPS researcher Mathew Matthews said: "Not everybody, before they came here, is used to the fact that there is so much multi-culturalism, where there are many languages, several races and many religions."
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