'Tireless bullying' drove 9-year-old Syrian refugee to suicide, grieving parents say
While officials refuse to discuss specifics, the family of a 9-year-old girl who died by suicide is speaking out about the bullying she allegedly faced at a Calgary school.
Amal Alshteiwi -- whose first name translates to 'hope' -- died by suicide in March, following what her parents say was "tireless bullying" that resulted in her changing schools.
Aref Alshteiwi and Nasra Abdulrahmin, speaking through a translator, told CTV News Calgary that their daughter’s teacher was informed of the bullying, but claim the school did nothing to address the issue.
"When I noticed that my kid was having problems at the school and slipping away, and all my other kids they are not happy at school, I went to the school myself," explained Nasra Abdulrahmin, Amal's mother.
Her parents ultimately decided to transfer Amal to another school. She died by suicide four days after the move.
"The kids were bullying my daughter and even asking her to go and hang herself and kill herself," said Aref Alshteiwi, her father.
Amal’s parents say their daughter was called stupid and ugly by her peers, including other refugees.
Police conducted more than a dozen interviews after Amal’s death, but no charges have been laid.
Speaking publicly for the first time since Amal’s death, chief superintendent of the Calgary Board of Education Christopher Usih said Monday that there is no place for bullying in the city's schools.
Usih did not confirm that Amal was bullied, nor that her mother had reached out to the school, but said the school board has strategies for addressing such situations.
"I can assure you the processes we have in place meet the test," Usih said during a press conference.
Later, Amal's parents said they are angry that the school board didn't directly speak about their daughter's case -- which they said needs more attention.
The family fled violence in their homeland and arrived in Canada nearly three years ago. Amal’s parents say she was happy in her first few years at school, but bullying began as she was struggling with mathematics in Grade 4.
Community organizations say refugee families face language barriers upon coming to Canada that can lead to isolation and racism.
"A lot of people from the newcomer community are really intimidated not to go public, not to criticize, not to ask because they've been labelled… [as] asking too much," said Sam Nammoura, co-founder of the Calgary Immigrant Support Society. He added that refugee families worry that the response will be, "We brought you here so you should be grateful."
Amal's family said there has been an outpouring of support from other refugees and support groups in the weeks following her death.
The Calgary Immigrant Support Society will be hosting a town hall in May, to help newcomer parents better identify bullying and how to speak out.