Interpreters Embedded in Refugee Community

As refugees themselves, Community Interpreters are also embedded in the refugee community. As a result, they are often susceptible to pressure for information that is protected by the confidentiality clauses in the Code of Conduct. Neighbors or family members may want to know who else in the community is a client with the organization, or what the outcome of a particular situation was. They may want to know the details of someone’s story before they arrived in the host country, or when their RSD interview is scheduled. There may be rumors around the community that they think the interpreters are in a position to confirm, and this puts them in a position of great pressure. Frequent and clear trainings on the Code of Conduct are essential to mitigating these risks and will help interpreters understand how to resist such pressure to share information.

As Community Interpreters and members of the refugee community, the personal and “professional” lives of the interpreters overlap extensively. The interpreters may see the clients for whom they interpret coming and going to and from home and vice versa. This creates an opportunity for harassment. Certain measures should be taken to minimize this risk and protect the interpreter, such as always having interpreters make interpretation phone calls from the office phone and never their personal phones. When they use their own phones, they are opened up to increased pressure from clients because the professional relationship is not as established. It also leaves the possibility of harassment by supplying the other person with their personal phone number.

Instances of sexual harassment

Interpreters may be at risk of sexual harassment as a result of the fact that they are also members of the refugee community. Men who would not otherwise approach their interpreter in an inappropriate manner may begin to do so because they realize that that interpreter also happens to live in his neighborhood, for example. This lends itself to a heightened sense of familiarity when the relationship should be strictly professional.

Conflicts of interest

Conflicts of interest may be more frequent because of this overlap, and as a result it’s important that at the beginning of an interpreting session it is made clear to the client that they may request another interpreter if they are not comfortable with the interpreter that has been provided for them. It is equally important that interpreters are regularly trained in professionalism and adherence to the Code of Conduct.

Some tips on specific ways to respond to pressures resulting to the blurred line between the professional and personal spheres:

Example: People in the community want help from the interpreter with their case: “I am sorry, I only do interpretation, I cannot help you with your case, please contact your lawyer”
Example: A client wants interpreter to be a friend as they are alone in the city and don’t know anyone else: “I am sorry, because I am your interpreter I have to keep a professional relationship with you during your case.”
Example: People in the community ask the interpreter if they have a good chance of getting Refugee Status. “I am sorry, I am unable to make that judgment, you can ask your lawyer about your case”
Example: People in the community ask the interpreter to have the lawyer call them about their case. “I am sorry, I can not do that, you need to call the lawyer yourself.”
Example: People in the community as the interpreter what similarities do the cases have that get refugee status (wanting to perhaps change their stories to try and get a better chance at being accepted). “I am sorry, I don’t know and I signed a confidentiality agreement that I am bound to that states that I can not share any information about any case with anyone.”

Women interpreting for men or making phone calls on behalf of your organization to men may receive inappropriate comments or other forms of sexual harassment. In these cases, the interpreters receiving harassment should be allowed to interpret for only members of the same gender. In the case of phone calls, they should only make calls from the office phone.