Refugee crisis – Coping strategies for public service interpreters?

Media coverage of refugees abandoning war torn countries for new lives in Europe has gripped the world in recent weeks. For the vast majority the decision to leave their homes and families for the safety of foreign shores has been heartrending. Many will have experienced or witnessed harrowing scenes and will need both practical and emotional support as they attempt to integrate into their adopted countries.

I was recently asked to speak at ‘Talking to the World 2’ an international conference of translation and interpreting studies and was particularly interested in a paper presented by Kirsty Heimerl-Moggan, a highly respected interpreter, lecturer and trainer.

Kirsty’s paper investigated the motivation for a selected study group who have been displaced by violent conflicts in their home countries, who have chosen to settle and become public service interpreters in the UK.

It was a very informative piece of work and there was much discussion around topics such as whether their experiences allowed a greater degree of empathy for those newly arriving in the UK and how have their own experiences in the countries from which they have fled coloured their work as interpreters.

One area that I found particularly interesting was the level of support being offered to public service interpreters and translators who work very closely with refugees and were themselves disturbed and stressed by the stories they heard.

While some interpreters have the ability to divorce themselves from intense, emotional issues, others are not able to do so and as a result are affected by what they may hear or see. So, there is a question as to how those operating in the public service arena are themselves provided with support and coping strategies and how as an industry we can provide effective training to cope with the issues and the consequences that this brings to their lives.

From the reports that we are hearing the influx of refugees to Northern Europe will continue for a number of years and the movement of people could be in the millions. It will be a challenge in itself to ensure that there are enough interpreters and translators to cope with the numbers involved. It is all the more reason that we need to ensure that our colleagues in the industry are provided with coping strategies to undertake such important and vital work while ensuring that their own wellbeing is looked after.