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Portrait of an RLS Refugee Interpreter

Vafa is a refugee from Afghanistan and one of RLS’s employed interpreters. As you will find out in the following interview, Vafa is an extraordinary person.

She is only 19 years old and speaks and translates between Dari, Farsi, Arabic, Urdu, Turkish and English.

Vafa was born in Afghanistan where she learned Dari. She then moved to Iran where she spoke Farsi – similar, but not identical, to Dari – and later to Syria. Vafa remembers: “I lived in Syria for seven years and learned some Arabic. My family and I did not have many opportunities in Syria, but I did learn English and took some computer classes.”

In Syria, Vafa also learned Urdu, which she describes as “a mix of Turkish, English, Farsi and Arabic”. She received schooling in Syria for six years, and her teachers were from Pakistan: “I would watch films in Urdu and picked up the language.”

Vafa later moved to Turkey. She lived there for three years, working in textiles with other refugees. She learned Turkish and kept on practicing Urdu with her Pakistani colleagues, and Farsi with the Iranians around her: “I remember that there was a song that would frequently play in the background. I learned all the words which helped me improve my Turkish.”

Vafa came to Greece in May 2017.

She visited Khora, a community centre in Athens where RLS was initially based. Vafa sought assistance with some of her paperwork and was encouraged to join Khora as a volunteer interpreter.

Interpreting provided an opportunity to gain experience, improve her CV, and receive a reference. Vafa was offered to attend three professional training sessions related to cultural mediation: “Until then, I had not realised how challenging interpreting could be and how much skill it required. The training I received helped me greatly in developing these skills.”

Speaking about her first experience interpreting, Vafa remembers: ‘I was very nervous but felt encouraged to believe that I could do it. I was not used to taking the role of assisting; until then, I had only ever been in the position of the asylum seeker client. It felt very good to be on the other side.

“Before being offered the opportunity to interpret, I was looking for a job in housekeeping or waitressing. Now, I have a job that provides me with skills for the future. It is not that those other jobs are not good, but they are very tiring and low-paid. Now, I feel like I have other options.”

Vafa talks about her experience working with refugees:

“When I started, I felt very lonely and thought that I was the only one who was experiencing these feelings. Working with other refugees, I see that other people go through similar or worse pain of being separated from their families. These experiences make me not feel lonely anymore. I feel stronger and lucky that I have a job and friends. I sympathise with fellow refugees and feel happy to act in solidarity with them.”

Vafa also feels empowered as her work means that she knows more and more about Greek and European asylum law: “Working with lawyers and other interpreters helps me gain knowledge. I have a better overview of the asylum procedure, I feel empowered knowing about refugee rights which I did not know before I started working as an interpreter.”

Vafa’s mother lives in Germany and she will soon be able to join her there.

In Germany, she hopes to continue working as an interpreter and to continue studying: “I feel that I have better opportunities for my future. I am more positive and feel better about myself. With this job now, I have so much good hope for my future. Once I settle in one place, I want to improve my interpretation skills and the other languages I speak; continue my education.”

This profile is based on an interview with Vafa conducted by Efi, the coordinator of the RLS pro bono clinic in Athens, and her former colleague, Joey.

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