Imagine entering a world where you don’t understand a word anyone is saying. You’ve just left your home and most of your belongings to escape severe trauma, and you have no idea where to go now.
Sadly this isn’t the premise of a new tactical video game where you get access to various options and nine lives in which to “win”. This is the reality for 70.8 million displaced people in the world today, whether they are internally displaced in their own countries, such as the survivors of Cyclone Idai which hit Mozambique earlier this year, or refugees who’ve crossed international borders, like the Rohingya people of Myanmar who have fled persecution in their own country to go to Bangladesh since August 2017.
If this were a video game, there might be a hero who swoops in to help. In the real world, some of these heroes take the form of translators and interpreters, who help refugees make sense of their often chaotic and dangerous situations. These translators facilitate communication between refugee families and human rights or aid organisations, as well as doctors, lawyers, case workers and anyone else involved in the re-settlement process. They are also able to help the refugees adjust to the new customs, speech and behaviour of their host country. In essence, translators provide help and compassion to refugees who are trying to navigate their upended lives. Translators are often the only thing standing between a refugee and a sense of hope or despair.
The need for translators and interpreters in refugee camps is indisputable. According to humanitarian interpreter Julie Jalloul of Translators without Borders, a lack of interpreters in Greece in 2017 led to a surge of misunderstandings. For example, a woman was unable to communicate to the police that her money and refugee card had been stolen, and a Syrian man was misdiagnosed by a psychologist because the Egyptian interpreter who was helping him didn’t understand the Syrian Arabic dialect. Without translators, humanitarian assistance during refugee crises would be mostly ineffective.
On World Refugee Day, VSI would like to applaud the work of translators and interpreters all over the world, who shine some light into the otherwise dark world of displacement.