In times of crisis, interpreters and translators play a vital role in helping communication across language barriers. It can often be a dangerous and emotionally challenging role that can go unnoticed by the wider public, but it is one that can save lives.
With the terrible situation in Ukraine continuing, we wanted to share some of the resources available for interpreters and translators who are providing support in this region while also highlighting the significant importance of their work.
The role of interpreters and translators in conflict zones
Over the years, interpreters and translators have been called upon to provide essential communication during times of conflict. These translators and interpreters may work in war zones, often putting their lives at risk to bridge the language gap between multinational forces or work with doctors, aid workers or police to ensure all communication is fully understood and the appropriate action can be taken. For example, in Afghanistan, Afghan interpreter Baidar Hammad enabled US forces to listen for radio communications between Taliban fighters, helping to locate them.
Translators and interpreters also have a crucial role in supporting refugees who have fled their homes due to conflict or danger. Interpreters, such as Mayan-speaking Oswaldo Vidal Martín, offer hope to migrants seeking asylum, acting as their voice in court.
The standards and ethics of interpreters and translators
Interpreters and translators in conflict zones are placed in extremely difficult positions. Their job is to remain neutral and, therefore, being caught in the middle often results in hostility from both sides. Put in this vulnerable position, these interpreters and translators often require special protection during and after the conflict.
While the organisations that employ these interpreters and translators must be aware of their responsibilities, the linguists must also uphold the standards and ethics of the language profession, which will enhance their safety and rights. The nonprofit organisation Red T was set up to protect translators and interpreters in high-risk settings. They have published a set of safety guidelines for civilian interpreters and translators, as well as users of these language services.
Helpful support for language professionals during the Ukraine crisis
The European Commission has published information on humanitarian interpreting, updated since the Ukraine crisis. This resource contains useful links to other organisations offering support, education and training for interpreters and translators working in conflict zones.
The ATC (Association of Translation Companies) has condemned Russia’s act of aggression against Ukraine, confirming it stands alongside Ukraine and its people. Ruth Partington, the ATC’s Chair, stated, “Translators and interpreters, and the whole language services industry, exist to enable people and businesses to communicate across cultures, borders, and divides. This work of ours will not stop but continues through conflict and war. We must condemn Russia’s aggression, as we must condemn all aggressors and support all those who are affected as best we can. The price of war is suffering, on all sides of the conflict and beyond it.”
The Polish Association of Translators and Interpreters has set up Translators for Ukraine, a database of volunteer translators and interpreters for those seeking help. Meanwhile, FIT Europe is garnering language support for refugees of the crisis.
Mission Translate would like to thank all those interpreters and translators who are offering their services for the Ukraine crisis or any other conflict situation. You are providing a lifeline to so many people in need, which is highly valued. We would also like to offer our support and services to those organisations that require language services. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any queries you may have.