Community Policing and the Syrian Refugee Community in Wellington District

Author: Tohill, Yvette
Published in National Security Journal, 08 March 2021

The circumstances which see females spending more time in the family home, com­bined with language challenges, may inhibit access to services and information, and lengthen resettlement times. This reflects similar findings by Fitzgerald regarding the way gender roles can contribute to social isolation of refugee females.45 Opportuni­ties identified for women around driver licence training could support increased inter­action outside the home. Participant Three spoke about the ability to drive providing the opportunity for women to shop for groceries, take children to school, and meet with friends.

Refugee Background 

The Syrian community in Wellington comes from a predominantly refugee background and are largely Muslim. One participant remarked that there were around 250 Syrian families settled in Wellington District over the last five years. The general opinion was that connections in the community were strongest within their own localities.

Understanding how Syrian refugees identify themselves may help to further define chal­lenges, or ways to approach opportunities. Wide-ranging backgrounds in education, rural and urban living, conservatism and religion all make for a complex and layered mix of people. Experiencing war and displacement add further intricacies to identity. Participant Three highlights a tendency to ignore this diversity:

People want them to be a homogenous group, and sort of want them to be one size fits all, but they are not.

The experience of becoming a refugee can greatly influence an individual’s mind-set. Participants Two and Six both spoke about the determination of refugees to get what they desire and how this thinking was a core instinct now. As Participant Two describes it,

The refugee from the definition is a person who came to a line that said “please don’t cross” and they went across it, to be safe. If they obeyed those rules, they would be dead, bombed, kidnapped, etc. Having that process in the background – if they (an authority figure) say they can’t and they (refugees) just say ok, that agreeing means they will never get it.

This thinking is reflected in an experience described by Participant Six, supporting a family on the emergency housing transfer list who were unhappy with waitlist times, and the resulting demand for Police resources where issues were more appropriate­ly sitting with other organisations. Half the participants also referred to community information channels providing advice regarding situations and services. Consistent messaging, education regarding roles, patience and a coordinated approach across stakeholders may be necessary to address these challenges.