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High demand for high quality: Training interpreters for asylum interviews

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The role of interpreters in the asylum process is often neglected, but professional and accurate interpreting is vital to ensure a fair outcome. As Europe’s migration streams continue to increase so too does the demand for interpreters who have the right training to deal with the challenges associated with asylum procedures.

Dr Sonja Pöllabauer, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Translation Studies at the University of Graz, who is involved in research projects on community interpreting and the development of training courses, says if interpreters are not properly trained for these situations the outcomes can be detrimental, resulting in faulty translations, distortion of content and role confusion.

“Austria, as well as other European countries, is faced with a lack of training options for interpreters in asylum settings. Very often asylum adjudicators regularly consult untrained interpreters, who are appointed solely on the basis of their alleged language skills. Studies show that this situation may entail serious drawbacks for both applicants and the asylum authorities.”

When an asylum seeker is unable to communicate in the language of the country of asylum and cannot provide a written claim, how the interpreter facilitates communication often forms the sole basis of an official’s decision. This is a big responsibility. Not only do interpreters need to understand the content of the interpreted issues and the associated procedures, the interview is often very emotional.

“The different European national asylum authorities all have their own statistics on the number of asylum applicants per country and year. From these numbers one can easily deduct the high number of interpreters needed every day to interpret in asylum hearings. In the face of a global humanitarian crisis these numbers will rise considerably and often within a short span of time,” Dr Pöllabauer says.

“The current influx of Syrian applicants is a very sad example in case. To be able to process these large numbers of applications in a fair and effective manner, asylum authorities have to be able to rely on interpreters who know what they are doing and are aware of their responsibilities towards applicants and officials.”

To better prepare interpreters for these working contexts and the stressful situations that may arise when interpreting the asylum procedure, UNHCR (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) Austria launched project QUADA (Qualitätvolles Dolmetschen im Asylverfahren - High Quality Interpreting in Asylum Procedures), which built on existing research and analysis to develop a national curriculum for training interpreters working in asylum settings.

The training curriculum was published in the form of a 200-page German training handbook in spring 2015. It is targeted at untrained interpreters, sworn and court certified interpreters and interpreters with formal, full-scale interpreter training but who have little training in the field of asylum.

It consists of 12 different modules on interpreting and asylum related topics, for example: legal background and basics for interpreting in an asylum interview, interview techniques and strategies, the role of interpreters in asylum interviews, interpreting ethics, interpreting techniques, note-taking, interpreting for vulnerable applicants, and dealing with emotionally challenging content and situations.

Dr Pöllabauer, who will be discussing the development of the curriculum and findings that were identified concerning the quality of interpretation services at InDialog in November, says they are pleased with the initial reaction to the training modules.

“Some of the content of the training handbook was tested in two pilot workshops which took place in 2014. The content and organisation of the workshops was very positive. The majority of the participants expressed their wish (and willingness) to attend further training.”

To date, the project team is in the stage of exploring options for the long-term institutionalisation of the training programme, with concrete plans for the programme to be implemented at the Austrian Adult Education Centres.

Dr Pöllabauer says: “The Austrian Association of Adult Education Centres, the oldest and largest adult education institution in Austria, has agreed to implement the training programme. Three of the training modules will be offered in 2015. Depending on the evaluation and acceptance of these first three modules, the remaining modules are planned for 2016. A blended learning approach will be adopted for the training workshops, which will include elements of online content delivery combined with face-to-face instruction.”

You can hear more from Dr Sonja Pöllabauer in a presentation titled: 'It Is a Fiction that I Am Neutral and Invisible.' Training Interpreters for Asylum Interviews, which ispart of the Highly Sensitive Settings sessions taking place at InDialog on Saturday, November21, 2015.


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