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Integration can start in migrants’ homelands, says German official

SINGAPORE — There is a need to integrate immigrants even before they leave their homelands, said panellists at a forum on migration and integration yesterday.

SINGAPORE — There is a need to integrate immigrants even before they leave their homelands, said panellists at a forum on migration and integration yesterday.

The four-person panel, including Member of Parliament Zainudin Nordin (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) and Dr Maria Bohmer, Germany’s Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, shared their respective country’s integration efforts and the difficulties they faced in assimilating a large immigration population brought in to address issues related to an ageing population.

Speaking to the audience at the Orchard Hotel, Dr Bohmer said Germany had changed its approach to immigrant integration following Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comments in 2010 that multiculturalism had failed.

“In the past, we had assumed integration would happen naturally without any special effort on our part, (without) any language-related policies and measures, legal measures or any volunteer engagement” she said. “That’s why we have changed direction.”

Taking a cue from Canada, she said Germany had decided it needed to begin the immigration and integration process even before immigrants left their home countries.

Through a “pre-integration” process, prospective immigrants took up German language courses before they migrated. Other measures such as fostering a “culture of welcome” were also put in place to better integrate immigrants. There are at least 15 million immigrants in Germany, of which nine million are citizens.

Speaking to the press after the forum, Mr Zainudin said Singapore could learn from Germany’s experience and policies, such as its strong emphasis on a common language, and brought up the example of Singaporeans complaining about restaurant staff who had a poor command of English.

In response to a question about enclaves formed by large numbers of immigrants hampering integration, he said it was natural for immigrants to be comfortable with their own kind.

“We cannot stop people for hanging out with their own kind. That is against human nature. What we need to do is create more common spaces for people to come out and mingle and get to know each other,” said Mr Zainudin. Xue Jianyue

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