Opinion column in "Le Monde": "Mediation and interpreting are essential throughout the asylum process".

23 November 2022


An article published in "Le Monde", initiated by Marie-Caroline Saglio-Yatzimirsky, director of Inalco's DU Hospitalité, médiations, migrations (H2M), and signed by a group of academics and humanitarians specializing in issues of mediation in a migratory context, calls on the French government to invest more heavily in this field to promote the integration of exiles.
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Repression does not discourage refugees but condemns them to precariousness, denounce, in an article in "Le Monde", academics and humanitarians specializing in the subject calling for a policy "that questions people, not flows or numbers". (Le Monde)

Tribune in "Le Monde", June 24, 2021.

With one year to go before the presidential election, security rhetoric is once again taking precedence over all others. At European level, the policy of non-acceptance is reflected in the tightening of borders, illegal removals, overcrowded camps and the senseless application of the Dublin Regulation, the inefficiency, cost and perverse effects of which governments nonetheless unanimously recognize.

On the French level, the non-accueil is replayed every time we tolerate the amalgam migrant equals suspect, moving from the classic "migrant profiteer" to the odious "migrant terrorist".

As long as an asylum seeker is not recognized as a refugee, he or she is considered a suspect. They can then be kept on the streets, in a situation of waiting and undignified assistance. It's the same with those who don't have a residence permit, and we hope that the end of all assistance, or forced or accompanied deportations, will lead them to leave.


The conditions for dialogue

However, anyone who has worked with exiles knows that the cost of exile, the losses and separations it entails, are such that once they arrive in the so-called host land, they won't leave. There's no point in trying to suffocate them. The undesirables don't disappear, they slip away into areas of great precariousness, where they are subjected to cumulative violence at an ultimately immense social cost.

On the contrary, the experience accumulated over the years by those working in the field shows us the success of policies that focus on people rather than flows and figures. It shows us just how much of a difference intercultural and linguistic mediation makes.

Mediation and interpreting are essential throughout the asylum trajectory.

Upstream, to listen to an Eritrean or Bangladeshi minor in a Calaisis camp and understand why he doesn't want to reach a local home but England, to hear the will of a Malian or Guinean migrant who tries several times to cross the Franco-Italian or Franco-Spanish border at the risk of being turned back with violence, to understand that each newcomer, whether from Syria or Afghanistan, responds to specific logics and loyalties, depending on the group to which they belong, their language and their region of origin. Resettlement programs that study family configurations are well aware of this.

Mediation and interpreting are also essential downstream. Because they create the conditions for dialogue, acting as a bridge between the two cultures, the two languages, between the country of origin and France. Because they promote integration. So that the multitude of integration programs and initiatives bear fruit.


Untranslatable terms

On the ground, this role of intercultural and linguistic mediator is often performed by exiles who put themselves in the position of intermediary. Exposed, without specific training and without this experience being truly perceived for what it is: individually a real lever for professional insertion, and for others an essential possibility of access to information and insertion.

Mediator-interpreters are the ones who will be able to explain existing integration schemes, and defuse cultural misunderstandings. How, for example, can we ask exiles to register to receive their administrative documents when the very word and concept of domiciliation does not exist in their language? How can we explain the untranslatable terms "préfecture", "récépissé" and "guichet unique"?

No, when a prefecture official demands that asylum seekers do not leave the waiting room to say their prayers, he is not attacking their religion, he is applying the principles of order in an administrative office of the Republic.

No, when a young volunteer hands out a health kit with condoms, it's not an implicit invitation to a sexual relationship. Not to mention public institutions such as hospitals, where, without mediation, care sometimes can't take place so much the vocabulary of the body and intimacy can be a source of misunderstanding.

French paradox

Or there is a great paradox here. While mediation is developing everywhere - school mediation, court mediation, family mediation, cultural mediation in art and cultural spaces, intercultural mediation in international companies - intercultural and linguistic mediation in migratory contexts does not exist. Or very little. This is a French paradox, as "community interpretation", which could facilitate the integration of non-French-speaking populations, is widely developed in many of our neighboring countries.

It's time to invest in mediation in a migratory context. Universities are taking action. This is the case for some of the partners in the Migrants in Higher Education (MENS) network, offering exiled students university diplomas (DU) on mediation such as the DU Hospitalité, médiations, migrations (DU H2M, Inalco, Paris) or the new DU Dialogues (Lyon-II).

Associations, institutions and players in the field are trying to integrate intercultural and linguistic mediation alongside volunteers or social workers. But nothing will be possible if the State does not arrow more specific credits for this, if the State does not specifically support this dynamic, if the State does not value the linguistic and cultural resources and the immense motivation for integration of the first concerned, the exiled people.

Because any exile who has been able to enter the job market is a victory, not only for the individual, but also for the whole of republican society; because he or she is just waiting to find his or her place in it, let's invest in the conditions for this success.

List of signatories : Jean-Michel Benayoun (professor, director of the UFR Études interculturelles de langues appliquées/EILA, University of Paris); Aurélie El Hassak-Marzorati (executive director, Centre d'action sociale protestant) ; Emmanuelle Gallienne (director, association Kolone); Pascal Godon (national referent, Fédération de l'entraide protestante); Manda Green (teacher-researcher, co-director of the university degree Dialogues. médiation, interprétariat et migration, Université Lumière-Lyon-II); Antoine Paumard (director, Jesuit Refugee Service, JRS France) ; Marie-Caroline Saglio-Yatzimirsky (professor, coordinator of the university diploma Hospitalité, médiations, migrations, Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales, Inalco, Paris); Annick Suzor-Weiner (professor emeritus, Agence universitaire de la francophonie and Université Paris-Saclay).