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Former Northern Ireland policeman is now making life safer for 102,000 Syrian refugees

One-time Ulster cop Stephen Boddy tells how he came to be a security chief at one of the world's biggest refugee camps

Published 25/09/2015

Stephen at work in the Za’atari camp in Jordan
Stephen at work in the Za’atari camp in Jordan

I have worked as a police adviser in many countries in the world - from my roots in Northern Ireland to as far away as Mongolia and Sri Lanka. So how did I come to be working in Jordan?

It began with a phone call while I was on a family holiday, asking me to carry out some training over three months for the Jordanian Police. Twenty months later, I am still here, living in Jordan full time with my wife and dog.

Why I am still here? It is because there is still a need, but I find being here very stimulating and rewarding. I feel privileged to be part of a UK Government-funded policing support team working with Jordanian and international agencies to improve the lives of Syrian refugees.

Ensuring refugees live in a safe and secure environment is what our job fundamentally entails. Since October 2013 I have been working with Jordanian police in Za'atari and Azraq refugee camps to ensure crime, or fear of crime, doesn't stop the 102,000 Syrians living here from accessing essential goods, services and support.

My work began by identifying policing and community safety issues in Za'atari camp. Our team conducted a survey of perceptions of safety among the residents. Two stand-out themes emerged: police presence within the camp was minimal, and they would only enter in response to an incident.

This reactive form of policing and lack of interaction with the community contributed to little trust in the police, and residents feeling unsafe walking around the camp. It hindered access to goods and services, as many refugees were afraid to go out.

In response, Jordanian police from the Syrian Refugee Affairs Directorate and our team began to develop a community policing programme. First, we began training and mentoring community police officers. Personal safety training boosted officers' confidence to patrol unarmed on foot. Courses on problem analysis and effective communications improved engagement between these officers and camp residents. Establishing a referral system allowed issues reported to the community police to be passed to relevant agencies. The second step was to set up community police stations. This has further improved the availability of community police to listen and respond to residents' concerns. Creating an environment that allows camp-based refugees to rebuild quality of life is a long-term job and there are no quick wins.

This is why my work with Jordanian Community Police focuses on building collaborative partnerships with camp residents and humanitarian agencies.

Through effective community and stakeholder liaison, police are better able to gain refugees' trust and confidence. This means more residents will feel comfortable approaching police to solve issues before they become big problems.

Feelings of safety have increased as a result of these efforts. In February 2015 we carried out a follow-up survey of public perceptions of safety in Za'atari camp. It revealed that 88% of residents now feel that walking alone in the camp is safe, compared to 66% in August 2013. Trust in the police has increased too. Whereas 73% of the population said in 2013 that they would never interact with the police, only 12% now hold this sentiment. Moreover, 59% of residents said they have absolute or moderate trust in the police - a figure in line with levels of trust in police around the world.

The camp is a different place now to when I first started. At first there were moments that were challenging and certainly tested my resilience. But the Community Police officers now tell me that walking around Za'atari is like walking around any other town in Jordan.

I leave work every day with an enormous amount of respect both for the resilience of the Syrians who have been forced to leave their homes and also for the fortitude, generosity and respect with which the Jordanian people support their Syrian neighbours.

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