Supporting non-Arabic speaking refugees

Learn how to approach working with refugees who don't speak Arabic

At the time of writing this, resettlement has not restarted, however with each day we are closer to that and therefore closer to the start of the new UK Resettlement Scheme. UKRS will mean that we will see refugees resettled from a broader range of countries and nationalities and will likely speak languages other than Arabic. In this resource we look at what this means for Groups who are writing their applications now and we will also look at some of the potential challenges of working with families speaking multiple languages.

New languages – an opportunity to engage with people from other communities

When the UK committed to resettling 20,000 refugees in 2015, helping those who had been displaced by the conflict in Syria, communities responded with a huge welcome.  Because of this resettlement scheme, we hear from Groups that they expect to resettle only Syrian families however, those who have been welcomed in the UK have been Iranian, Kurdish and Iraqi too.  The possibility of welcoming refugees from other parts of the world, speaking languages other than Arabic may sound a bit scary at first, but it will, undeniably, also be an opportunity. As a Group you will be able to learn about and engage with people from other cultures and also to engage people who live locally from other communities and backgrounds. This may be something to explore  If you are at an early stage in your application  – take a look and see what languages are spoken in your local community, what interpreting support can you access and what cultural expertise is there . You can read some more on this in our guide on finding interpreters.

It is important to mention that your Group will not be pressured to accept  non Arabic speaking refugee family from a different region, if you are already preparing to support an Arabic speaking family. The Home Office will look at the skills that your Group have and the languages you can support. As UKRS is implemented, we at Reset will also be producing materials in other languages to facilitate communication and make sure that the family you work with is able to access, for example, the complaints policy and other necessary documents in the language they are most comfortable with. We’ve already included Kurdish resources and also have our first resource available in audio format, for those who cannot read in their own language..

Working with families speaking multiple languages

With the start of UKRS we may also see more culturally and linguistically diverse families. It is possible that children will be born and brought up in a country of asylum and may be able to speak more languages than their parents. It is also possible that some of the adults will have learned language used in their country of asylum, while others only use their native language.

If this is the case for the family you support you will need to ensure that you are offering equal support to everyone.  When we use the term ‘family’ about the people you support, it’s easy to think of a homogenous group of people, but each person you support is an individual.   It may be easier to provide interpreting in only one of the languages if that’s mainly spoken, or more accessible and ask one of the family members to then translate into family’s native language. That approach may prove problematic for a variety of reasons and you should only ask family members to translate for others when absolutely necessary. Also, remember that it is never acceptable for children to translate for their parents.

Even if adults perform the role of interpreters for others it may lead to tensions within the family. Having to explain and translate content of conversations at all times is a lot of work and may be beyond someone’s capacity, particularly when translating technical information such as that relating to benefits or healthcare or having challenging conversations. Moreover, that way your Group are not able to ensure what messages actually reach the person for whom it was intended.  Interpreting is hard and is best left to people who are trained or experienced in doing so!

While offering support in languages other than Arabic may pose a challenge, you will never be on your own and we are always here to help and offer advice and support. You can also treat it as an opportunity to explore new cultures and get to know people in your area!

Useful resources:

Last modified
Friday, September 4, 2020 - 10:31
Key things to do
  • Explore what languages are spoken in your local community
  • Make sure you provide equal support to everyone in the family
  • Try not to use family members as interpreters