Home & Away

Not all of today’s travellers can expect a sense of welcome at their new destinations


People travel for different reasons, pleasure being the most popular one. Plane-hopping has become second nature to many, as today’s global citizens prefer to spend on experiences — such as sojourns across Europe or dive trips in Cozumel — instead of worldly possessions.

Others travel for work. While technology has created global office spaces where colleagues in different continents can interact simultaneously, travel remains essential for first-hand perspectives at the likes of industry seminars, fashion festivals, important board meetings and such.

Yet others travel to embrace strategic career moves, or to make a livelihood. This group of people uproot themselves to open the door to a new life in a foreign land. Their work bases could be their long-term home, and many will live overseas for a good number of years.

 Recently, this last group of “travellers” was highlighted in a UK crowdfunded campaign, “I am an Immigrant”. Launched by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants’ umbrella group Movement Against Xenophobia (MAX), it spotlights 15 immigrants to the UK, photographed by US Vogue’s Philip Volkers. The portraits will appear in some 400 London Underground station posters and 550 railway station billboards.

In one, Polish firefighter Lukas Belina smiles next to the words: “For seven years I have been saving lives, and your life could be next.” Another features Malaysian touch rugby player Lois Lau, and reads, “I have scored seven tries and was voted my team’s most valuable player at the 2014 European Championships”.

On the ethos behind this campaign, a MAX spokesperson stated: “Immigrants are part of the fabric of our society. It’s time to celebrate, not vilify them.”

What an apt reminder not just for people in the UK, but the rest of the world. I can’t help but draw parallels with Singapore’s sociological landscape, in which immigrants are referred to as “FTs”, or “foreign talent” — albeit in varying tones of distaste.

Like the UK, Singapore is home to many immigrants from all over. Like the UK, Singapore thrives on the expertise that a migrant workforce brings with them, to ensure we have the best men or women for the most difficult jobs. And like in the UK, FTs in Singapore face prejudice although they contribute towards the good of society in different ways.

Given that the Government looks set to recruit more FTs vital to Singapore’s growth and economic progress — whether or not we agree with the immigration policies — is such a campaign what Singapore needs?

Off the top of my head, I can already imagine posters with similar messages, featuring construction labour, IT engineers, restaurant chefs and laboratory technicians.

That’s something to consider, as on- and offline sentiment rages on about FTs who break traffic rules, steal our jobs (and women), and refuse to integrate with the community at large. After all, our country was founded by immigrants — and it’s apt that they continue to be part of the Singapore story.

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