As Syrian refugees began the long and sometimes emotional journey from the Middle East to Canada, four Arabic-speaking members of the RCMP travelled in the opposite direction to Amman, Jordan, to meet with the prospective Canadians.
The effort is part of a Canadian police engagement strategy the RCMP developed in partnership with law enforcement agencies from across the country to help with the integration and settlement of refugees into local communities.
The strategy aims to prevent the victimization of the newcomers while establishing trusting relationships with police, which is the foundation of the RCMP's community policing approach.
An initial step of the RCMP's outreach efforts was engagement with Syrian newcomer families before they left for Canada.
Over the span of a week in early January, the role of the four deployed members was to understand the refugees' needs and expectations from a law enforcement perspective and to answer questions they had about the role of police in Canada.
"They were very appreciative that we were there to answer their questions and felt content that someone was interested in listening to them and actually cares," says Cst. Nader Khalil, who is posted in Calgary, Alberta. "That human element is very important.''
The RCMP visited two locations — the medical screening facility, where refugees were going underwent the final stages of the screening process, and the civilian airport from which the refugees were departing to Canada.
"None of those we spoke to knew what police in Canada do. But they often became interested once we described how the police in Canada is part of community services and that its multi-ethnicity is a representation of Canada's multiculturalism," says Sam Jaroudi, a civilian member based in Ottawa. "Our role has absolutely helped to dispel rumours."
Jaroudi says families thanked members of the team for making them feel less worried and more excited about life in Canada.
"They also felt comfortable enough to even share heartbreaking stories about their experiences with the war in Syria and how they escaped to Jordan," he says.
For the children, members brought custom-made colouring books that provided basic safety information and crayons.
"The most important and underlying message we got from all the families was their fears, wishes and desires for the future of their children. Everything they were doing was for their sake," says Sgt. Lina Dabit of the RCMP Toronto West Detachment in Ontario. "We played, coloured and joked with the kids. They were proud to share their names and ages and show us their artwork."
Dabit, the sole female member on the team, also received several questions from women about home life in Canada and what educational and job opportunities are available for women.
Once the refugees are settled, the RCMP and members of the law enforcement community will continue to engage with them to build a strong relationship and develop a long-term, two-way dialogue.
"We introduced the concept of police as an active partner in the community," says S/Sgt. Marwan Zogheib, who works out of the RCMP's Hamilton Niagara Regional Detachment. "And we encourage them to reach out to the police for assistance whenever they need it."