Interpreting services within immigration removal centres

Written by Aisha Maniar

The lack of trained interpreters inside immigration detention exacerbates fear, mistrust and depression and has contributed to a number of deaths.

ShawReviewThe Stephen Shaw Review into the Welfare in Detention of Vulnerable Persons in Britain’s immigration detention estate, published in January 2016, is the latest in a long line of reports that make recommendations to the government on the use of professional interpreters in immigration removal centres (IRC).

Of the 3,000 or so men, women and children held in immigration detention each day, past and present asylum seekers make up more than half of the total. Some speak no English at all and their experiences of Britain are limited to detention almost immediately upon arrival. Many have fled war, persecution, rape and torture. This vulnerability is aggravated by the deprivation of liberty and their inability to communicate effectively with those around them, or to understand what is happening to them. Detainees who have to rely on interpretation and/or translation services at an immigration removal centre (IRC) have been found to be more likely to be depressed, which impacts on their mental health.

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)’s operating standards manual for immigration service removal centres states, ‘The Centre must ensure that appropriate decisions are made about the use of interpreters or translated materials on a case by case basis. The level of communication must be adequate to ensure correct clinical outcomes. Particular consideration to this should be given in cases where there may be sensitive health issues, issues of confidentiality or the need to obtain fully informed consent.’

In practice, this is not what happens. Too often, interpretation facilities in IRCs are inadequate or non-existent. Interpreters are sometimes provided through lawyers, but with extensive cuts to legal aid, many detainees find themselves without any legal representation. Instead, there is over reliance on detainees interpreting for each other, the use of centre staff, and access to a commercial telephone interpreting service. None of these are ideal solutions, and very often, no interpreting service is provided at all.

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