A Syrian family who fled to Canada have spoken out about the death of their nine-year-old daughter after she committed suicide last month as a result of being bullied at school.
Amal Alshteiwi’s body was found by her mother on 6 March in their home in Calgary; in the weeks leading up to her death she had consistently complained of being physically and verbally abused by fellow classmates. The bullying continued despite changing schools, leaving Amal distraught
“Two weeks before she moved from that school to another school, kids came to her and said, ‘Even if you move to another school they are not going to love you. The kids or the teacher. Wherever you go, you better just go and kill yourself,’” Amal’s mother Nasra Abdulrahman said, talking through a translator.
“They were bullying her all the time there, telling her, ‘You are ugly, you are not beautiful,’” her father added.
The family came to Canada three years ago as government sponsored refugees fleeing the war in Syria three years ago.
Although Amal’s parents said they raised their concerns with the school management multiple times, teachers reportedly failed to protect the nine-year-old from the abuse or offer her any additional support.
In a statement emailed to Global News, the Calgary Board of Education said it “found there was no indication of bullying nor was any concern raised to the school,” following an investigation.
“The area office has worked closely with the school principal to gather information from teachers, staff and students to try to understand if there were concerns or issues,” the board said.
Whilst Canada has several organisations offering services to help refugees adjust to their new life, according to a 2017 survey, only half of those eligible to access them know they exist. The Alshteiwis did not reach out to any organisation for help settling in, and local immigration services are trying to establish why they were not alerted to Amal’s plight through the school.
The news of Amal’s death marks the latest incident of abuse against refugee children in countries to which they have fled the brutal eight-year Syrian civil war.
In February, two Syrian teenagers were walking in the German capital Berlin when they were confronted with a man spouting racist insults. He proceeded to attack the girls, punching them several times before fleeing into a nearby shopping mall. The girls sustained injuries and were transferred to hospital for treatment.
In December, criminal charges were brought against an American high school student after she beat a fellow Syrian student so severel, she required treatment at a hospital for concussion.
In November, a video showing a Syrian refugee being attacked by fellow students at a school in the UK went viral on social media, prompting outrage across the world. In the video, the 15-year-old, known only as Jamal, was seen walking alone before being head-butted, dragged to the floor, pinned down by his neck and water boarded by a group of boys. The boy’s sister was also believed to have experienced continual racial verbal abuse, which also led to her attempting to take her own life.
The increase in assaults against refugees and Muslims has been condemned as the result of anti-immigrant rhetoric from politicians and the rise of far-right groups in numerous European and North American countries.