RCMP creates how-to document for understanding new Syrian refugees
Refugees wanted to know if winter lasted all year and if they could practice their religion
As the federal government gets ready to meet its target of bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, possibly by the end of the week, the RCMP is preparing a document to help police forces across the country better understand the newcomers.
The document is based on the experiences of four Arabic speaking RCMP staff, both officers and civilians, who spent ten days in Amman, Jordan in January meeting with Syrian families hoping to come to Canada.
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They began meeting with refugees at the medical screening facility, but when word spread that some families were so anxious at the airport that they didn't board the flight, the team moved to where they felt they were needed most.
Sam Jaroudi a civilian staffer at the RCMP says the team began handing out colouring books to the children, and tried answering questions from their parents at the airport.
"They feel the anxiety: 'I'm leaving everything behind, everything I'm familiar with,'" Jaroudi said.
"It's a mother and father and their children, but they have siblings there — or their own parents — who are staying in Jordan or who are still in Syria," Jaroudi said.
"So, yes a lot of people had high anxiety," Jaroudi said.
Jaroudi said the Syrians he met did not have a lot of information about policing in Canada compared to other parts of the world, so he kept repeating this message: 'If you come to Canada and you feel vulnerable, or being taken advantage of, do not fear contacting the police.' That was the key message."
Acting Sgt. Lina Dabit agreed, adding "There isn't corruption as there are in other places in the world."
Both said family after family raised similar concerns.
"'If I go to Canada and I practice my religion I'm going to be perceived as an extremist,'" Jaroudi said was one common fear expressed to her. Or 'If I hit my kids, the police are going to come and I'm not going to see them again,'" was another, he said.
Dabit says there were also questions about the role of police officers or other government officials and if they received special treatment.
She says they tried to dispel those myths too.
"The fact that the police don't get any of those special privileges and there isn't that corruption you don't pay a guy off because you're speeding. You just don't do that," she said.
Not all the concerns were about policing.
"We got questions about the weather in Canada, of course," said Jaroudi. "'Is it cold?' Do we get the sun? 'Is it snowing year long?'"
While some things about Canada were easy to explain, such as the seasons, others, such as appropriate discipline for children, were more complex.
'No different than any of us'
Chief Supt. Angela Workman-Stark says the stories of the refugees had an impact on the few police officers they were in contact with while overseas.
"It humanizes those newcomers to Canada," she said.
Dabit agreed, saying her fellow officers often had questions about security issues.
"I was able to speak to that. I saw the people that we're bringing in. These are families. These are people with children. These are people who are no different than any of us," Dabit said.