Working with interpreters is often a key aspect of refugee legal aid. This page will describe when refugees may need interpreters, the different types of interpreters, some resources to find professional interpreters, and how to find and train community interpreters. After completing this training, you should understand when your clients may need interpreters, how to find professional interpreters, and how to create and manage a community interpreter program.

When might refuges need interpreters?

There are two main situations in which refugees may need the help of an interpreter: preparing their case and during the RSD process. Refugees have are entitled to quality interpretation in the RSD process. You should inform your clients that they have a right to ask for an interpreter of a particular gender, or to refuse what they deem inadequate interpretation during the RSD process. It is UNHCR’s policy to use its own interpreters in RSD interviews. Legal representatives are prohibited from acting as the refugee’s translator at these interviews. UNHCR will always try to provide female interpreters for female applicants. However, they are not always able to do so.

Types of interpreters

There are two main types of interpreters: professional and community based. Professional interpreters are formally trained and they often charge for translations. Community interpreters are generally members of the refugee community or the larger community and they often translate for a lower fee.

Professional interpreters

If your organization has the resources, you could hire professional interpreters to help prepare your clients’ cases. If you cannot afford to pay an interpreter, you may be able to hire one on a pro-bono basis.

Here is a list of organizations and companies that provide interpretation and translation services:

Community interpreters

Community interpreters are people from the refugee community and the wider host community who have language skills and are willing to serve as translators. This model is a good way to provide interpretation to your clients even when you have few resources to pay professionals.

Community interpreters play both a practical role and can contribute to the empowerment of the refugee community. This section will focus on the more practical aspects of their role. For more information on how this model can contribute to community empowerment, visit the Community Interpreters module in the Community Legal Empowerment section of the toolkit.