Community Policing and the Syrian Refugee Community in Wellington District

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

In 2020 an Auckland study reported that over half of Aucklanders viewed ethnic and cultural diversity negatively,3  and a survey of New Zealanders found 21% of the sample did not believe New Zealand should accept refugees.4 Further add­ing to the stress of their adjustment is the impact of their previous experiences in their countries of origin, then in transition and finally being introduced to New Zealand, most likely as different as any country could be from their own. Given the on-going civil war, the largest group making up refugees coming to New Zealand are Syrian. This study focuses on this group as a case study.

The limitations of time and space have necessitated that parameters imposed on this study are strict. A key element of any state and its relationship to society is the nature of its police. New Zealand clearly aims to police by consent, its patrol constables are not routinely armed and it emphasises the importance of its relationship with communities. Therefore, this study looks at a new community – Syrian refugees in the Wellington District and how this community perceives and interacts with the police. Community Policing is an area of policing where communities will have greater opportunities for exploring meaningful relationships with police. The New Zealand Police does not ap­pear to have its own specific definition of Community Policing, but operates with an understanding that is consistent with international approaches.

Relationships between the New Zealand Police and refugee communities are largely unexplored. In order to reference where some of the challenges may exist for these relations, it helps to examine research relating to refugee experiences in New Zealand, identifying relevant issues. Studies of different ethnic minority perceptions of the New Zealand Police are also examined to highlight areas of difference that signal opportu­nities for Community Policing, or gaps in knowledge across the body of research in New Zealand. Community Policing studies in New Zealand have to-date not included aspects of ethnicity beyond New Zealand Maori, therefore international examples can assist in understanding the strengths and challenges of a Community Policing approach to Police-Syrian refugee community relations.

The Refugee Experience in New Zealand

Refugee resettlement studies within New Zealand demonstrate that aspects of the reset­tlement experience disrupt successful integration and create conflict. Fitzgerald’s (2017) study of Syrian women in New Zealand argued that satisfaction with resettlement was determined by feelings of respect, having basic needs met, and the importance of lan­guage, culture and family. A lack of respect was associated with discrimination by some, particularly in relation to the wearing of hijab.5 Issues of conflict in resettlement arose regarding separation from, and the safety of family in Syria, competing with satisfaction from attaining safety in New Zealand, and a brighter future for their children.6 This study was conducted only three years into the settlement of the initial Syrian refugee cohort in 2014, and it may be questioned if its conclusions still hold a half a decade later.