Community Policing and the Syrian Refugee Community in Wellington District

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

Findings and Discussion


Communication was one of the biggest challenges for the Syrian refugee community in their resettlement. Support workers stated that Syrian refugees often arrive in New Zea­land with very little English and improvements take many years. There is a particular danger in assumptions by Police that some grasp of English means that understanding has taken place. As Participant One notes:

many Police officers, when they see clients speaking broken English, they have a little bit of English, they will go with it. I can guarantee that that client is understanding only maybe 20% of what is being said to them, and saying “yes, yes, yes” to what has been said to them.

The challenges with attaining English proficiency also highlight the potential for Syrian refugees to delay contact with Police, or simply not call at all, an experience shared by ethnic communities in general.40 Refugees who enter New Zealand under the Quota system will still be seriously challenged in their efforts to communicate in English well beyond the twelve months that support is provided. Additionally, reported contact between ethnic communities the New Zealand Police by Ho et al was low,41 suggesting the presence of unreported crime.

Using friends, family, or interpreting services to translate can ensure greater commu­nication and understanding, however this study identifies challenges that may be cause for concern or misinterpretation. Both Participants’ Three and Six spoke about using children as interpreters. Some children, through a quicker grasp of English fall into the role of interpreter for the family. Negative impacts can occur in parent-child pow­er dynamics, exposure of children to sensitive issues and responsibilities beyond their years,42 embarrassment by parents,43 and misinterpretation, as a child’s understanding of the meaning of words may alter the messages conveyed to their parents. Participant Six maintained that using telephone interpreters, beside reducing misunderstandings, meant that Police valued hearing what the clients had to say. Another participant main­tained that Police under-utilise the service. Consistent utilisation would protect chil­dren from negative impacts, demonstrate value, respect, and understanding. Through exploring this topic, it was also suggested that sensitive or complex situations warranted going further by engaging an interpreter in person to reduce misunderstandings and inaccuracies.

Culture and Religion

The change from Middle Eastern to western society instigates? challenges. Syrian refu­gees who are also Muslim, have greater difficulty, and particularly women.44