26 December 2017
Call for Syrian refugees' interpreters to get psychological support
Interpreters for Syrian refugees should be given psychological support as a “priority” due to the stress the work causes, according to a study.
Researchers looked at how the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme (SVPRP) was rolled out in Edinburgh, as a way to provide guidance for other authorities.
Welcoming arrangements were found to have exceeded the expectations of refugees, however concerns were raised about support given to interpreters.
The paper highlights how the workers were often the “only available staff” to families, which saw them build close relationships.
Interpreters reported breaking into tears during meetings and suffering bouts of depression as a result of what they were dealing with, often providing help out-of-hours.
NHS Lothian consultant Dermot Gorman, co-author of study, said: “It’s always variable with each worker ... It could be stressful for interpreters. They were hearing stories that perhaps had resonance with their own lives.”
One of the interpreters said in the study: “I just feel down and depressed because every day you are hearing what they’ve been through and it brings back memories to me, because we’ve been through this as well in my country – I was crying with them.”
Another added: “I’ve done quite a lot of work with the police, hospitals and courts, but the fact that you establish a relationship with the families, things affect you.”
SVPRP is a programme which commits the UK government to resettling 20,000 Syrian refugees.
It was announced on Monday, 18 December, that Scotland had taken in its target of 2,000 refugees three years ahead of schedule.
Problems identified include language problems for the new arrivals and difficulties with navigating NHS services, which led to them using interpreters as a first point-of-call for assistance.
The SVPRP: Evaluation of Edinburgh’s Reception Arrangements study focused on the city as it was one of the first in Scotland to take in large numbers through the resettlement scheme. It reviewed the successes and downfalls of the programme through the experience and opinions of interpreters during 2015 and 2016.
Concerns over worker stress resulted in the study, led by the University of Edinburgh’s Katherine Weir, calling on a number of recommendations to be implemented. In its conclusion it said psychological support for them should be “prioritised”.
Counselling is available for staff, but the paper said its availability should be reinforced in training for interpreters. It adds that management should consider the workers’ own histories when giving them jobs.
Prof Alison McCallum, NHS Lothian’s director of public health and public policy, said: “We are committed to ensuring all our staff, especially those who experience stressful situations through their work, have access to a range of occupational health support services to help them deal with stress and trauma.
“These services are made available to all our staff, including our interpreters, so that they are able to seek help when they need it.”