Community Policing and the Syrian Refugee Community in Wellington District

Author: Tohill, Yvette1

Published in National Security Journal, 08 March 2021

DOI: 10.36878/nsj20210302.01

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Relationships between the New Zealand Police and refugee communities are largely unresearched. This case study focuses on Syrian refugees in the Wellington region of New Zealand. Syrian refugees are notable by their numbers since the onset of the Syrian Civil War in 2014, and Greater Wellington is an area where many have been re-settled. Police are a key symbol of the state and interaction with police can leave defining impressions. This study researches refugee experiences in New Zealand through semi-structured interviews with police and others who have worked with Syrian refugees. It seeks to shed light on the mixed nature of the refugee experience and the opportunities for improvement that exist. Community Policing studies in New Zealand have not previously included aspects of ethnicity beyond New Zealand Maori, and this study may therefore assist in more generally understanding the strengths and challenges of Community Policing and refugee communities in New Zealand.

Keywords: New Zealand Police, refugee communities, Syrian refugees, Wellington, New Zealand, Syrian Civil War, re-settlement, refugee experiences, community policing, ethnicity.


New Zealand is one of less than 40 countries globally which accepts refugees. Under its Refugee Quota Programme New Zealand has previously accepted up to a thousand (recently increased to 1,500) refugees annually, the make-up varying year on year. Since 2015, refugees from Syria have made up the largest percentage of nationalities among refugees to New Zealand, and among the number of regions where people are placed, Wellington district has resettled the largest number in recent times.1 While officially New Zealand has sought to present itself as sympathetic to the plight of refugees, the Ardern Government attracted international criticism for a perceived discriminatory approach to its acceptance of refugees and New Zealander’s themselves are not necessarily welcoming of them.2


1 Yvette Tohill is a graduate in the Master of International Security (Intelligence) programme with the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at Massey University. Yvette would like to acknowledge the supervision, support and encouragement of Dr John Battersby and thank him for his assistance in undertaking this research. Additionally, this research would not have been possible without the willingness and openness of the Refugee Support workers and Community Policing staff interviewed. Their contributions and the support of their organisations for this research is greatly appreciated.