According to the UN, over 280 million people 3.6% of the global population lives outside their country of origin, both legally and irregularly, and there are 26 million refugees.
The role of linguistic-cultural mediators, also known as intercultural mediators , is essential when it comes to welcoming migrants who come to a country after fleeing critical situations. When we travel abroad, we not only encounter a language barrier, but a cultural barrier as well. And these difficulties are accentuated when people are traveling out of a need for asylum and refuge, that is, people who are persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion, often in conflict contexts.
The role of cultural mediators
Interpreters and cultural mediators are professionals with different abilities. Not all interpreters can perform cultural mediation, and not all cultural mediators have professional interpreting skills. A cultural mediator is a person who facilitates mutual understanding between, for example, a person or a group of people who are migrants or applicants for refuge and asylum and the professional from the receiving country who is offering them assistance (a doctor, for example, a border official, the police, or a psychologist or social worker), interpreting and taking into account cultural elements. The cultural mediator facilitates the reception and integration phases of migrants and can advise both parties on appropriate cultural behaviors.
To better understand the figure of the cultural mediator, it is important to put yourself in the shoes of immigrants. Most of them arrive fleeing an extreme situation following a path that, on many occasions, involves equally harsh and traumatic conditions. This means that people arrive in poor physical and mental condition, making it necessary for the help of essential services to be sought.
Doctors, psychologists and social services alike need the trust of the migrant for their work to be carried out successfully. Cultural mediation helps these people, who have been victims of torture and abuse, to feel welcomed and understood at such a remove from their place of origin.
At SeproTec we provide cultural mediation services in different countries and in very different situations as we work with different NGOs, at points of arrival in ports, refugee camps, centers for unaccompanied minors, hospitals and health centers, and we also provide assistance in medical and paramedical services, health promotion, psychological services and legal advice. Although this is not always the case due to the circumstances surrounding each arrival point and the volume of migratory flows, normally, the cultural mediator is of the same nationality as the asylum seeker, someone who speaks to them in their language, who is familiar with their culture, and explains their rights and options to them at each stage of the process. They are also in charge of anticipating what is going to happen and, ultimately, of ensuring that the exchange of information is relevant and fruitful.
Although the service we provide to refugees uses language as a vehicle, the work of mediators goes beyond mere interpreting. The aim is to facilitate integration through a better understanding between two cultures. For example, in a medical visit, doctors are advised on how to proceed with their examinations to avoid situations that would embarrass or disturb the patient.
Furthermore, if the mediator considers it important, they will not limit themselves just to the information offered by the migrant or professional and will instead offer an explanatory context regarding details and reasons. In other words, the work of a cultural mediator is oriented more towards integration than the simple transmission of information. The added value of this type of service lies more in the ability to overcome cultural barriers than in ensuring 100% correctness in the language.
Follow-up of each case
After each service process, it is important that a follow-up be performed on the asylum and refugee claimant by the professionals and the mediation facilitators. Once again, the job of the mediator is to contextualize the aid and the evolution, taking into account the specific situation and the customs of the place of origin.
In addition, while serving immigrants who are requesting asylum or refuge our help can also go one step further. If necessary, we help them fill out forms and we explain the meaning of the information we are giving them.
Our work as cultural mediators is one of the most rewarding applications within the translation and interpreting field, as it allows us to be of assistance in humanitarian emergencies. At all times we aim to act as a bridge for refugees, between the life they are starting, and the life they have left behind.