Asylum process: Quality of interpreting can affect asylum decisions

Asylum process : Quality of interpreting can affect asylum decisions

Interpreters can play a decisive role at the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bamf). But some organizations which help refugees complain of a lack of professionalism and quality.

The young Iranian waited for his hearing for many months, but when he finally sat in Bonn's arrival center of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bamf), the conversation was quite different than he had imagined. When he told the Bamf staff member who would decide his case about his conversion to Christianity, the interpreter intervened. "He hissed at my client and insulted him," says Jens Dieckmann, a Bonn lawyer for asylum. There was an exchange of words in Persian, after which the interpreter claimed that the Iranian had insulted the Bamf employee. Consequence: The asylum seeker was expelled from the Bamf grounds between Ermekeilstraße and Reuterstraße.

Dieckmann said the Iranian was “well integrated, with a permanent job in a hotel kitchen." He complained to Bamf about the interpreter, the asylum hearing was repeated and the young man received received recognition as an asylum seeker. “Bamf reacted very professionally,” praised Dieckmann.

Quality of interpreting services is lacking

Still, this case from 2016 reveals a major problem in the asylum process: the quality of interpreting services. The interview with the applicant and the Bamf decision-maker is fundamental in the asylum procedure. But the protocol is only available in German. "The interpreters are the key," says the lawyer.

Employees of Bonn-based Caritas, which offers refugees advice on how to handle the hearing, have had similar experiences. "Misunderstandings often occur and it often happens that it is translated incorrectly," says a counselor who was present at hearings. "There is a lack of quality in interpreters and there is a lack of training," she says.

She has had the experience that the interpreters were overwhelmed with the vocabulary used in asylum procedure, or that they were embarrassed by the topic of the discussions, and commented on or judged what was said. She describes the case of an Iraqi woman, who was subjected to massive domestic violence in her homeland, and then fled from her husband to Germany. In her asylum hearing, the interpreter approached her and after that, she said nothing more. That case also resulted in a new hearing. The Caritas employee complained that there was no quality control of the interpreters, as they were only volunteers.

Gabi Al-Barghouti from Bonn Caritas says there was a desperate need for interpreters at the height of the refugee crisis and the qualifications of those they found were not always sufficient. Al-Barghouti also thinks it is possible that interpreting errors could have resulted in wrong asylum decisions, but not only at Bamf in Bonn. Regardless, she emphasizes the good cooperation with Bamf.

90 percent have no training

Around 90 percent of the approximate 5,400 interpreters who currently work for Bamf throughout Germany have no corresponding training, explains Monika Eingrieber, project manager and expert in interpreting asylum procedures at the Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators (BDÜ). There are two main reasons for this: For languages ​​such as Dari or Farsi in Afghanistan, Wolof in Somalia or Igbo in Nigeria, there is no training at all. And there is a shortage of finances. "The Bamf just does not pay enough for professional interpreters," she says.

For Eingrieber, the main problem is that the interpreters do not translate everything that is said. "And next to completeness, there's a lack of accuracy because the vocabulary is missing," she says. Bamf is working hard to improve the situation, she says. In Bonn too, for example, in November there is a further training event for interpreting at Bamf.

Bamf itself does not comment on individual cases in the asylum procedure, but a written statement from 2017 says that quality deficits in interpreting can lead to some interpreters no longer being used. Around 2,100 interpreters were taken out of commission for further assignments in 2017 and 2018 due to quality issues, and 30 were terminated due to violations of Code of Conduct. "This shows that the quality assurance measures taken by the Federal Office are effective," says Bamf spokeswoman Natalie Bußenius.

Orig. text: Daniela Greulich

Translation: ck