Translating Crisis

Tower of London

Much of human history is marked by war. For centuries, translators and interpreters stood behind closed doors of negotiations and the front-lines of combat. Over time, warfare and diplomacy tactics has unrecognizably changed. Regulation, training, and laws protecting and educating interpreters in places of war and crisis, however, have not caught up.

Local translators are hired on the basis of their fluency in two languages needed for interpretation, as well as their knowledge and rapport with the community in which they are translating in. Case studies have shown that many interpreters “have not undergone training in interpreting… Thus they lack both essential professional skills to perform adequately as interpreters, as well as the necessary professional ethics to support crisis management and humanitarian efforts in a stressful environment.” (Bali & Moser-Mercer, 2008).

These interpreters enter warzones with little professional, emotional, and physical skills to cope and protect themselves. On top of this, their profession often put their families at risk, too. Interpreters are branded as infidel, traitor, or unpatriotic for working alongside the occupiers. As a consequence, their lives, as well as their families’ are in danger, even after the soldiers march out.

Legal measures were made by occupying countries like the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom, who created visa programs for locals served their military. However, none have been very successful. Here’s a clip from “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” where Oliver outlines the progress and flaws of the American Special Immigrant Visas:

As seen in the video, not only is the bureaucratic process of obtaining a visa complicated, but it is not even guaranteed. America’s neighbours like Canada and the United Kingdom have implemented similar programs, although they all seem to face the same issues and flaws.

The nature of translation makes its professionals invisible. However, this should not make them invisible in front of the law or protection. Their courage and service should not be forgotten. Their safety cannot be compromised. This Remembrance Day, we recognize the unsung heroes of war.

Bali, G., & Moser-Mercer, B. (2008, June 3). Interpreting in zones of crisis and war. Retrieved November 10, 2014.

 



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