Fighting fear with friendship
in migrant communities In 1962, a military coup d'état ended democratic rule in Burma, also known as Myanmar. Since then, hundreds of thousands of the nation’s minority group members have fled their homes to neighbouring counties such as Bangladesh. Many spend years in refugee camps, however significant numbers of two groups have started new lives on Brisbane’s northside. Sergeant Cherie Crane, Cross Cultural Liaison Officer for Metropolitan North Region, engages with the Karen and Rohingya people to help build relationships and overcome their fear of authority figures. “These people have come from places where the police are feared,” Sergeant Crane said. “We’ve had instances in the past where some people have been absolutely terrified of speaking to us through a Burmese translator. They were afraid the translator would report to the junta they were in Australia, and reprisal attacks would be carried out against any family they still had in Burma. That kind of fear is pervasive.” Sergeant Crane said she and the other cross cultural liaison officers, alongside police liaison officers, worked closely with the migrant
communities to help defuse that fear, and let them know the police were there to help. “I try to meet with all newly settled refugees, sometimes in plain clothes so as not to appear threatening, and tell them we are here to help them. Once that trust is built, we take them on a tour of their local police station and introduce them to the officers. Many of them would have never dreamed of speaking to a police officer willingly before, but we build that trust and soon they feel at ease.” Tackling some cultural barriers can be more difficult however, as Sergeant Crane discovered with the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority group from Burma. A large number have resettled in Banyo, but with long-established traditions and being almost entirely non-English speaking, their integration was challenging at first. “The Rohingya were terrified of police when they first arrived in the region, so we made a concerted effort to make sure every request they made was met so they knew they didn’t have to be afraid of us,” Sergeant Crane said. “Sergeant Ben Flematti, who was Officer-in-Charge of Banyo, and I then developed
a plan to help overcome these cultural hurdles.” Working closely with the Banyo Football Club and RSL, Earnshaw College, Brisbane City Council and the Multicultural Development Association, Sergeant Crane and Sergeant Flematti implemented a proactive strategy of engaging the Rohingya with the local Banyo communities to enable them to get to know each other. “It all culminated with what we called Neighbour Day, which we celebrated at Banyo Memorial Park. We had members from the Banyo community, the Rohingya community and police all celebrating together. It was a fantastic day for everyone involved.” For Sergeant Crane, the most rewarding aspect of her job is engaging with a diverse variety of cultures on a daily basis. “The Karen, who settled on the northside, have only been in Australia for four years, but the relationship has grown strong in that time. Every year I am invited to celebrate Thanksgiving with their elders, and it’s just a wonderful experience every time I attend,” she said.
Police build trust by demonstrating the use of an Alcolmeter to members of the Karen community who have settled on Brisbane's northside after fleeing Burma.
One of Sergeant Crane’s proudest moments as a cross cultural liaison officer came recently when she helped organise an ‘Intercultural Yarning Tent’, which brought together members of migrant and Indigenous communities to swap stories and share knowledge. “There was a moment where the refugees were sharing their experiences and the hardships they had been through, and the Aboriginal elders had tears in their eyes. Everyone cherished that chance to listen and tell their own story. And when you help to facilitate something like that, it’s a humbling moment.” By Tim Larkin, Media and Public Affairs Branch