Community Policing and the Syrian Refugee Community in Wellington District

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

Raising the profile of Community Police, both internally, as well as within the different communities through good news stories were highlighted as an opportunity worth pursuing from a number of participants.

Most of the police participants reported they had a good relationship with the Syrian community in Wellington district. Refugee support workers also felt that in general, the Syrian refugee community viewed the New Zealand Police in a positive light. The New Zealand Police response to the Christchurch Mosque Tragedy was seen as instrumental for improving relations with the Muslim community.

Despite current positive perceptions of the Police-Syrian relationship, improvements are necessary to avoid negative impacts on trust and confidence in Police, such as un­der-reporting of crime and less calls for service. Participants referenced the potential emergence of a “them and us” society, signalling divisions between different ethnicities, which one participant believed would then be passed on to children. Participant Two warned of the snowball effect that could take place if issues weren’t addressed, empha­sising Police as a piece of this puzzle, and New Zealand being ideally positioned to ensure Syrian refugees were well-integrated from the very beginning.


This study identified challenges experienced by the Syrian refugee community, their perceptions of the New Zealand Police, and their experiences of crime. Opportunities are identified that could have a significant impact on improving the lived experiences of Syrian refugees in Wellington district. This study gained contrasting perspectives through the insights of Community Police interactions with Syrian refugees, identify­ing areas of risk, and methods to minimise this risk.

The findings recognise that aspects of communication, culture, refugee journeys, gender and youth contribute to the challenges experienced by the Syrian refugee community in Wellington district when interacting with the New Zealand Police. These features influence the way in which the Syrian refugee community perceive the Police and access services when in need. Utilising tools such as interpreters in the right situations demonstrates value and mitigates the risk to English speaking children. Understanding the impact of gender roles and utilising the best form of communication will ensure an efficient response which is culture-sensitive. The unique mind-set produced through the refugee journey can create challenges for services to address the needs of some refugees. The New Zealand Police is only one component of a refugee’s integration journey. A clear understanding of the roles of partners and collaboration across services will ensure a consistent response, avoiding unrealistic expectations that can undermine trust and create perceptions of bias.