Community Policing and the Syrian Refugee Community in Wellington District

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

Participant Two and Three spoke about how different transition country experiences influenced the mind-set of the Syrian Refugee cohorts settled across Wellington. Tran­sitioning through Lebanon could have produced more negative experiences than coun­tries such as Egypt. Syria’s historic invasion of Lebanon and then the more recent war in Syria, which forced over one million Syrians to seek refugee status in Lebanon, led to an environment that was not welcoming, involving discrimination, curfews, and a lack of access to school and services. Participant Two surmised that this has caused a victim mind-set to develop in some Syrian refugees, which can be further utilised as a reason for not following the rules. Participant One further explained that Syrian refugees need to understand not just the rights, but the obligations involved in a democracy.

Obtaining the right approach, rested partly on the education of Community Police alongside earlier involvement in resettlement, providing non-crime opportunities to show visibility and increase engagement with refugees. This may also present Police more as individuals rather than intimidating authority figures or a “tool” to be utilised. Setting consistent expectations for Police-Community interactions across Wellington District, and ideally at a national level would ensure the right messaging is spread and assist in the management of particularly determined clients.


All participants identified the successful integration of youth as an area of current and future risk. Participant Five highlights the crossroads of this new group of migrant youth as the most pressing issue right now, stating that:

The first generation is a big indicator of where future generations will go.

The complexities experienced by refugee and migrant youth in negotiating identity in a cross-cultural setting are well documented.46 New Zealand studies highlight the con­cerns of Muslim parents regarding the influence of Western culture on their children.47 Participant Five, one of the Police participants, believed that the issues regarding Syrian youth would have their roots in the concept of identity, feelings of acceptance and be­longing. Participants spoke about the particular freedom enjoyed by boys which may result in greater exposure to elements of New Zealand culture that cause conflict with their Muslim faith.

Research in New Zealand has not identified the routine profiling of ethnic youth by Police, however has found evidence that some ethnic youth may experience encoun­ters with Police that they perceive as resulting from age and ethnicity characteristics.48 Thoughts around profiling were volunteered by two participants. Participant One had knowledge of Syrian youth dealt with by Police in drink driving situations. The shame experienced had in some cases led to boys attempting to deflect attention by suggesting profiling by Police led to the traffic stop. There was a risk that uneducated parents with very little English, the sons’ control of information, and the high levels of trust between parents and children would allow this impression to take root.