Asylum applications: Why the role of interpreters is confusing and unfair

02/13/04

Confusion over the use of interpreters in the UK's asylum applications system could affect the fairness of decisions, according to new research sponsored by the ESRC.

A study led by Dr Moira Inghilleri, of Goldsmiths College, University of London, says the total process of examining a UK asylum application is of more ultimate significance than any individual hearing.

The critical position interpreters play in establishing the credibility of an applicant's claim to asylum based on a 'well-founded fear of persecution' is among aspects put under the spotlight in her report.

She says notions that interpreters can perform their task mechanically, in an aloof and independent way, ignore the influence of their own backgrounds and differing relationships towards the cultures of the languages and communities of both the asylum seeker and the host nation.

Dr Inghilleri's report says that interpreters may be used in a range of ways and can face different and inconsistent demands by institutions and their representatives as the application goes through various formal and informal stages.

Training for this work involves two distinct concepts, says her report 'linguistic' and 'community' interpreting, with those involved operating in them to varying degrees of commitment.

Dr Inghilleri said: "These differing approaches, along with the differing use of interpreters in the application process, can lead to substantial confusion about their role both among interpreters themselves and those who use their services."

The varying ways in which interpreters operate when engaging at different stages in the system is part of the reality of the asylum process, observes the report.

The study focussed in particular on how fair a chance an asylum applicant has to present an accurate and credible account of his or her situation. It examined, for instance, the conditions placed by the courts and elsewhere on the interpreter's role what they can and cannot do and say, and the kind of translation they can produce.

At the first stage, the applicant's solicitor recruits the interpreter, at the second the Home Office, and in the third the Immigration Appeals Authority.

Each is able to recruit an interpreter from any available source - from those without formal qualifications through to people on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters. In each part of the processes the interpreting is done by a different person, meaning that they come at it with a whole range of approaches and perspectives, leading to confusions, which affect just outcomes.

The report says that looking at interpreters themselves as people influenced by social and political processes gives a greater understanding of the confusion and ambiguities about their role, the different expectations placed on them, and how these factors may affect the asylum process.

Dr Inghilleri said: "Problems of inconsistency or inaccuracy that may originate in any one context will have a potentially enduring effect on an applicant's asylum claim, and an applicant's perceived credibility."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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