Community Policing and the Syrian Refugee Community in Wellington District

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

The find­ings from this study highlight that by seeking a greater understanding of how culture and religion influence the behaviour and responses of Syrian refugees in Wellington, opportunities to improve Police-Syrian interactions can be identified.

Female Syrian refugees experience difficulties in relation to their hijab when Police are involved. One referred to the male of the house blocking Police entry, while his wife dressed in her hijab, and another where a Syrian female was upset due to an intruder on the property seeing her without her head covering. Increased cultural understanding can ensure a Police response, which incorporates patience and empathy. The use of female officers can facilitate female victim cooperation in any investigation without the undue influence of gender based cultural concerns.

Traditional gender roles add more challenges for both Syrian Refugees and the New Zealand Police. Females wishing to wait to have their husbands present during re­porting or statements can cause delays. This is understandable, however could lead to frustrations regarding the ability to solve crimes, or inaccuracies if females allow the male to speak for them or are influenced by their presence. Many of the Syrian refugee community are conservative Muslims. Participants spoke about how the traditional role of males provided control of many decisions and movements of females outside of the family home. This would inhibit the reporting of offending from within fami­lies, but also by those in the community. Participant One stated the broader concept of Domestic Violence, including psychological, emotional and financial abuse is not understood initially.

Making the decision to report Domestic Violence was particularly difficult for Syrian refugees. Participant Two described the experience in terms of leaving everything they know.

I feel, part of the reason why they don’t want to go to the Police is be­cause once they go to the Police they will be in the “white, kiwi, perspec­tive.” All their culture will be disgraced, and all their religion will not be honoured. They will have to go out of everything, their culture, their religion, their community, to reach for the police.

Demonstrating increased cultural understanding and sensitivity was identified as one way to address the fear of reporting, utilising avenues such as printed documents in Arabic, programs or counsellors where needed. There is evidence of adaptability and cultural considerations in the way some officers approach family harm. Participant Five noted that they had recently dealt with a Domestic Violence incident where the adult offender was interviewed with his parents present. This modification was bene­ficial in obtaining the truth of the matter. Wider application of this type of approach, aided by cultural understanding may increase both a willingness to report, as well as a more sensitive process for those of Syrian backgrounds.