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The importance of interpretation and translation in times of humanitarian crisis

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aid worker with child

The importance of interpretation and translation in times of humanitarian crisis

If you want to donate money directly to poor households in East Africa, thanks to the internet, you can. If you want to raise money for a charity project of your choice, thanks to the internet, you can. This connectivity has transformed charitable aid, helping the world respond to humanitarian crises like the Syrian war, and recent extreme natural disasters.
But although the internet may have made cross-border aid much easier, there is one barrier it can’t overcome: language. True humanitarian efforts rely just as much on accurate and timely translation and interpretation. Without these things, no amount of connectivity could make a difference.

Natural disasters happen across borders

Society may have broken up the world with national borders, but nature pays no notice. Hurricane Irma, for example, tore through many island nations, covering French-, Dutch-, English-, and creole-speaking areas of St Martin, Spanish-speaking Puerto Rico, and French- and creole-speaking Haiti.
In cases like these, medical translation is crucial. As we have said before, translating in emergency situations takes more than just language knowledge. “Good medical translators also possess an understanding of the regulatory laws and quality controls that operate in different countries.” Medical translators will be able to navigate sensitive issues, from whether certain drugs are legal to whether patients are allergic.
When helping survivors or coordinating aid missions in areas where more than one language is spoken, knowledgeable medical translanslators are essential.

Refugees face legal barriers

The legal requirements for seeking refuge from a conflict zone are complex enough as it stands. Trying to understand them in a second language could be almost impossible.
When newly-inaugurated President Trump filed an executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, several lawyers dropped everything to work for free in support of airport detainees. Though many of the immigrants spoke English, some were more fluent than others, necessitating swift and accurate legal translation to read these people their rights.
With the number of ongoing conflicts around the world, and attempted persecution of refugees by some national governments, legal translation is become ever more important. Like lawyers, translators themselves could work on a volunteer basis in situations like these.

Translators can help refugees resettle

Being forced to leave your home country after a war, disaster, or genocide is a harrowing experience. Settling down in your new home can be difficult too, especially if you don’t speak the local language. Again, translators can be helpful here. Skilled translators can dedicate their time to teaching refugees a second language, equipping them with the knowledge they need to navigate their new environment.
Refugee Action set up the Let Refugees Learn campaign to create broader access to English lessons among asylum seekers in the UK. The project encourages supporters to write to their local MPs, but trained professionals can volunteer as English teachers themselves.

Translators and interpreters can go beyond the port of call

Some crises require extra pairs of hands more than they do translation. In these instances, translators and interpreters themselves can still prove useful. After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, many locally-based interpreters travelled around devastated areas, using their cars to transport survivors and supplies. Some even offered their homes to those with nowhere to stay.
In responding to this disaster, translators made it clear that helping others in any way shape or form is what’s important, whether or not your personal expertise is involved. Though some interpreting may have been needed after the earthquake, translators were helpful in their capacity as human beings, regardless of profession.
If interpreters and translators are based close to a disaster or crisis, their linguistic talents will often be necessary. But even when these skills are not needed, these professionals can still lend a helping hand.

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