This section aims to offer an overview of changes and developments in the provision of interpretation services in the EU+ countries during 2018. It looks at the legislative, policy, and practice developments, while also making reference to perspectives shared by civil society actors.
Interpretation is an important and at the same time fragile part of the asylum procedure as it has an influential impact on the communication channels between Member State’s institutions and asylum seekers. The integrity, efficiency and quality of the asylum procedure requires that applicants understand each stage of the process and that at the same time authorities should be able to understand all details of the applicants’ circumstances.
Providing high standards of interpretation services while covering a broad spectrum of linguistic families and dialects remained a challenge for many EU+ countries in 2018. The findings of the chapter International protection in EU+ highlight that the number of overall arrivals across EU+ countries decreased during last year, but the variety of countries of origin – hence, the number corresponding languages and dialects- remained almost the same as 2017 and the number of applicants even significantly increased from some countries of origin. Some citizenships with considerable year-on-year increases - for example Nicaraguan, Peruvian, Colombian, Honduran, Venezuelan and Salvadoran - were registered in Spain, where applicants share the language with nationals. Still, many other citizenships with considerable year-on-year increases – for example Moldovan, Yemeni, Georgian, Palestinian, Tunisian, Turkish and Iranian - applied in countries where there was no common language shared, putting interpretation at the forefront of procedural needs.
The national legal and policy framework in EU+ remained stable in 2018 with a few changes aiming to clarify various specific aspects of the provision of interpretation. Applicants in France have to now indicate the procedural language when registering their application. Authorities may hear the applicant in a language they sufficiently understand, when the applicant does not make this choice or when the requested language is unavailable. The applicant can only contest the langue of the procedure in the framework of the appeal procedure. Interpreters are bound a special Code of Conduct drafted by OFPRA, which was made available for the general public as well in November 2018.359 The Council of State also delivered a relevant ruling and underlined that when an applicant is unable to communicate during the interview due to the absence of an interpreter and the OFPRA is responsible for this fact, the CNDA must annul the decision.360 The amended Immigration Act in Belgium requires applicants to provide a translation in English or in one of the three national languages of all submitted documents, when they are drafted in another language. When the applicant cannot provide this translation, they are obliged to explain the relevant parts of the submitted documents, during the personal interview with the support of an interpreter. The amended Asylum Decree in Hungary notes that the applicants, whose gender identity is different from their biological sex registered, can request an interpreter of a specific gender. One civil society organisation from Hungary welcomed a new procedural safeguard regarding the selection of interpreters: the Immigration and Asylum Office is now required to take into account any eventual cultural issues, conflicts that might arise between the interpreter and the applicant due to their countries of origin.361 The Law 4554/2018 in Greece clarified that the duties of UAMs’ guardian includes ensuring that free legal support and interpretation are provided to the minor. A National Registry for Interpreters was established in Norway, administered by the Directorate of Integration and Diversity (IMDi) and overall more funding was allocated for qualification measures for interpreters. The minimum standards for interpreters were raised in Germany and interpreters have to hand in a C1 language certificate for the main languages. Interpreters also have to participate in an online training about the special aspects of providing interpretation in the framework of asylum procedures. The Finnish Immigration Service conducted an analysis of the interpretation quality in asylum interviews and decided to recruit two quality control interpreters in the languages of the main countries of origin (Arabic and Dari). Civil society sources raised concerns about the quality of interpretation for example in Croatia362 and in Spain.363
EASO has been providing support for the provision of interpretation in Cyprus and the four Migrant Information Centres - also providing interpretation services to applicants and beneficiaries of international protection - continued to receive AMIF co-funding. Civil society organisations indicated the lack of interpreters for certain languages for example in Croatia (Pashto, Tamil)364 and Spain (Tigrinya, Pashto, Sorani)365. UNHCR noted the lack of interpreters in Greece in Somali, Farsi, Kurmanji, Sorani, Amharic, Panjabi, Tirginya, Bangla and Urdu.366 Another civil society source added that this risks causing major delays in the asylum procedure: for instance, the Regional Asylum Office in Thessaloniki seems to have very few scheduled interviews for Sorani-speaking asylum seekers before 2023.367 Interpreters were available in Poland even for rare languages, such as Sinhala, Tamil, Bangla or the Sorani dialect of Kurdish, but sometimes with longer waiting times, delaying the asylum procedure.368 UNHCR pointed out that in Italy the border police did not have enough interpreters and cultural mediators to identify persons in need of protection.369 It also noted the lack of updated and adequate multilingual information materials on the possibility to apply for asylum at border crossing points.370 The police in Slovenia seems to have conducted interviews in English at the border with Croatia, instead of finding a suitable interpreter.371 Urdu and Arabic interpretation has been available in office hours in the Röszke Transit Zone in Hungary since mid-April, while AMIF funding allowed for a Pashto interpreter between February and beginning of December 2018. Arabic interpretation at the Tompa Transit Zone was temporarily not available in November and December due to illness. Double interpretation is often used in Romania, due to a lack of interpreters in general.372
359 AIDA, Country Report France, 2018 Update.
360 ECLI:FR:CECHS:2018:412514.20180411. Referenced also in: AIDA, Country Report France, 2018 Update.
361 AIDA, Country Report Hungary, 2018 Update, p. 27.
362 AIDA, Country Report Croatia, 2018 Update, p. 28.
363 AIDA, Country Report Spain, 2018 Update, p. 28; Spanish Commission on Refugee Aid / Comisión Española de Ayuda Al Refugiado CEAR, Input to the EASO Annual Report 2018.
364 AIDA, Country Report Croatia, 2018 Update, pp. 28, p. 32. The Croatian Ministry of the Interior emphasised that a contract was signed with one Pashtu interpreter in July 2018 and there is the possibility to hire a Tamil interpreter from Slovenia, based on an agreement between the two countries.
365 AIDA, Country Report Spain, 2018 Update, p. 28.
366 UNHCR, Greece 2018 Country Report: Inter-Agency Participatory Assessment Report.
367 DRC in Greece, Input to the EASO Annual Report 2018.
368 AIDA, Country Report Poland, 2018 Update, p. 18.
369 UNHCR, Submission by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) concerning the execution of the judgment by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Sharifi and Others v. Italy and Greece (application no. 16643/09, judgment of 21 October 2014), p. 3.
370 UNHCR, Submission by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) concerning the execution of the judgment by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Sharifi and Others v. Italy and Greece (application no. 16643/09, judgment of 21 October 2014), p. 3.
371 AIDA, Country Report Slovenia, 2018 Update, p. 19.
372 See for example the interview statements challenged due to the fact that double interpretation was used: RO Regional Court Giurgiu, Decision 5170/2018, RO Regional Court Rădăuţi, Decision 2201/2018, as reported in: AIDA, Country Report Romania, 2018 Update, p. 27.