Lack of interpreters threat to asylum process

Sweden’s lack of qualified interpreters with specialized skills in legal terminology poses a threat for those seeking asylum in the country, warns the head of the Swedish Bar Association (Advokatsamfundet).

“The risk is that asylum seekers won’t be understood and that, as a result, an asylum seeker won’t be able to put forward the arguments that serve as the basis for their case in an effective way. And therefore there is a risk that they will be rejected, and we think that’s very serious,” Anne Ramberg, director general of the Swedish Bar Association, told Sveriges Radio.

Only one sixth of the 6,000 interpreters in Sweden are licenced by Sweden’s Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency (Kammarkollegiet), and even fewer have specialized competence in legal terminology.

Of the 200,000 interpreter hours needed annually by the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket), only 6 percent are carried out by licenced court interpreters, SR reports.

And Sweden’s 1,000 licenced interpreters are only qualified in 36 languages, while the Migration Board receives cases in well over 100 languages.

As a result, most of Sweden’s 30,000 annual asylum seekers who require an interpreter are reliant on services from interpreters who haven’t gained accreditation.

And a recent study carried out by the Swedish Courts Administration (Domstolsverket) showed that licenced interpreters are of markedly better quality than unlicenced ones.

“You can see that the translations don’t flow in the way you’re used to with a qualified interpreter,” said the Courts Administration Ulla Pålsson, who led the investigation, to SR.

She added that poor quality translations can lead to misunderstandings and mistakes which Pålsson said the agency “cannot accept” within the Swedish judicial system.

In order to address the situation, the government needs to launch an inquiry into how to train more interpreters, argued Pålsson.

In addition, she thinks that rules governing how interpreter services are supervised should be reviewed, something which was first proposed following a previous government inquiry six years ago.

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