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The Finnish Immigration Service works to improve the quality of interpretation in asylum interviews

Publication date 19.11.2020 10.39

The Finnish Immigration Service has developed a quality assurance system for the interpretation services used in asylum interviews. The quality assurance system enables comparisons based on similar criteria regardless of the language of interpretation.

The quality assurance system is part of the development project for the interpretation services at the Finnish Immigration Service. The quality assurance system was developed under a project entitled Tulppaani, which was carried out during 2019–2020 with funding from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). The project engaged two full-time quality assurance interpreters whose working languages were Arabic, Dari, Persian and Sorani.

As part of the Tulppaani project, a reporting template was produced for the revision of interview tapes. The interpreter reviewing a tape will make detailed observations on any deficiencies in the interpretation and assess the interpreter’s performance in general. Based on the reporting template, a quality assurance form was created to be used in the assessment of the quality of the interpretation. 

Previously, assessing the quality of interpretation has been difficult because the interviewer was only able to give feedback based on the Finnish used by the interpretation and their professional conduct. 

-    “With the new system, the Finnish Immigration Service now receives the necessary information from the reviewers to assess the quality of interpretation,” says Heli Hirvonen, Senior Adviser and project manager for Tulppaani.

The asylum interviews are the most important step in the process of establishing the grounds for asylum. During the asylum interview, the asylum seeker explains in their own words why they need international protection. The quality of the interpretation has crucial significance for the processing and decision-making regarding an asylum application. 

Quality assurance based on spot checks

The Finnish Immigration Service tested the new system and carried out spot checks on 80 asylum interview tapes. The interpretation languages were Arabic, Dari, Persian, Somali, Sorani, Turkish and Russian.

-    “We wanted to obtain a comprehensive picture of the quality of the interpretation. Therefore, we needed a thorough cross-section of the interpreters attending the interviews and the languages used,” Hirvonen says.

The interpreters were given feedback based on the reviews. A number of follow-up reviews were also carried out as part of the Tulppaani project and it was noted that the problems identified in the spot checks had been resolved.

If any meaningful deficiencies regarding the content on the interpretation were detected, the Finnish Immigration Service also reviewed the protocol of the asylum interview. The deficiencies identified in the interpretation did not affect the outcome of the asylum interviews or the decisions on the asylum applications.

Quality assurance becomes a permanent practice

The quality assurance of the interpretation services has since become as permanent part of the activities of the Finnish Immigration Service. The Asylum Unit will be employing an experienced Arabic translator, and the Finnish Immigration Service will continue to carry out spot checks on several interpretation languages.

The Finnish Immigration Service paid specific attention to the language skills and the role of the interpreter attending the asylum interview. Based on the observations made, the Finnish Immigration Service drew up extensive special glossaries to support the quality of interpretation. 
The new glossaries include vocabulary on immigration, Christianity, military service and sexual orientation. The glossaries are made available to the interpreters in the interview rooms in Arabic, Dari, Persian and Sorani. 

In addition to the extensive glossary, the project team also produced guidelines for the interpreters: Tulkkaus turvapaikkamenettelyssä, opas tulkeille. The guidelines focus on the understanding of the role of the interpreter.

Some of the spot checks carried out revealed that some interpreters had omitted parts of the asylum seeker’s testimony. Usually this had been because the interpreted segments were too long, and the interpreter could not remember all the details. 

The interpreter’s duty is to interpret the speech of the interviewer and the interviewee accurately and comprehensively. The interpreter must understand their role in the interpreting situation, and they may not make any additions or changes to the content.

-    “Most of the interpreters are highly qualified. These materials are provided to support the extremely demanding work of the interpreters,” Hirvonen says.

The Finnish Immigration Service organised a webinar for its interpreters in August where the topics discussed included interviewing minors, findings of the quality spot checks and the reasons why the role of the interpreter is so crucial during an asylum interview. The webinar received positive feedback from the interpreters and the next webinar is already being planned.

FACT: How does the Finnish Immigration Service manage the quality of the interpretation during an asylum interview?

  • At the beginning of each interview, the interviewer ensures that the asylum seeker and the interpreter can understand each other. 
  • The interviewer asks the asylum seeker to immediately say if they cannot understand what the interpreter is saying or what the question is.
  • If necessary, the interviewer can check during the interview that the asylum seeker and the interpreter can understand each other.
  • At the end of the interview, the interviewer will again ask the asylum seeker if their understood the interpreter during the interview.
  • The interview protocol is always reviewed together with the asylum seeker at the end of the interview or the review may also take place during an additional appointment.
  • If the asylum seeker and the interpreter cannot understand each other, the interview will be rescheduled with another interpreter in attendance.

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