The victim couldn’t cope with constant bullying at school and her family seeks justice at a time when hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise worldwide.
“We wanted to comfort her, calm her down but we never thought she could do something like this to herself,” said Nasra Abdulrahman, the Syrian mother of a nine-year-old refugee girl who killed herself on March 6.
Amal Alshteiwi would leave for school in a good mood and return looking troubled and unhappy, Amal's father Aref Alshteiwi says. After noticing a change in his daughter's behaviour he thought he should give 'extra care' to her.
The students made snide remarks to Amal on frequent occasions and made fun of the way she looked. The family tried to address the situation, reaching out to teachers and eventually changing her school. Two weeks before leaving the hostile environment, her classmates bade her farewell saying she should kill herself since no one was going to love her at the new school.
The family says Amal couldn’t cope with the feeling of stress and anxiety caused by the experiences she had to go through at the school. They plan to sue the school authorities and take them to federal court. They don’t want others to feel the same pain as Amal did, they told a local Canadian Citytv network.
The school, however, denies that the family informed them about their ward's condition.
“The parents failed to get the proper and immediate attention from the teachers but the teachers undermined what the parents were saying. It was clear, it was communicated but it was somehow neglected or pushed away,” Sam Nammoura, from the Calgary Immigrant Support Society, told Global News.
Nammoura said it's common for students in Canada to complain about being bullied at school but someone taking their life over it is a rare occurrence.
To address such negative behaviour against the newcomers, he said Canadians must learn that it's wrong to look at someone disapprovingly or to think that a refugee or migrant is required to be grateful even when they have a problem.
“We need to raise awareness about the bullying in the school to start with. We need to do more education to teachers, in particular about the multiculturalism issues. When you deal with the people who came to the country a few years ago, even if they speak English, it doesn’t mean that they're really able to get the stuff out,” he said.
Increasing hate crimes
Welcoming more than 50,000 Syrians with resettlement programmes, Canada started to accept the Syrian refugees on a case by case basis after 2015.
Although most of the war-affected refugees from the Middle East want Europe as their ultimate destination, the majority of them end up living in places like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and other neighbouring countries. Comparatively, European countries have accepted refugees in much smaller numbers, though offering them better living and working conditions.
In Canada, hate crimes based on race or religion have increased by 47 percent, according to the latest report by Statics Canada, tainting the country's refugee-friendly image mostly projected by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party.
The same worrying trend against refugees has been observed in European countries as well. There has been a sharp increase in such incidents in the last couple of years as right-wing parties stoked unfounded fears of immigrants and refugees to appease the populist majorities.
In October 2018, a video surfaced on the internet showing a group of white students in northern England pushing 15-year-old Jamal, a refugee from Syria, slamming him to the ground and waterboarding him. The incident sparked global outrage and condemnation, highlighting the hostilities refugees and immigrants have to navigate on a daily basis. Another alleged video appeared on social media showing Jamal’s sister being attacked and her hijab, religious headcover, being pulled off.
More than 100,000 people demanded inquiries into rising hate crimes in UK schools, starting an online petition that also called for taking strict measures against bullying, especially for those who have fled war and persecution.