Jenny Btyo, an interpreter with the Luxembourg Red Cross, in June 2016
Photo: Marion Dessard
Why they interpret for the Luxembourg Red Cross
This year 16 new interpreters have joined the Luxembourg Red Cross, making a total of 86 people who help asylum seekers.
“It’s a pleasure to be helpful,” says Hakim Baki. The 59-year-old finance manager works as an Arabic-speaking interpreter. “Due to the increasing number of asylum seekers from Syria and Iraq, there’s a huge demand so I had to contribute,” he adds.
Indeed, Baki is one of the 16 interpreters who received a certificate after completing a course organised by the Luxembourg Red Cross earlier this year.
“The interpreters had a total of 45 hours of training,” says Edel Alvarez, in charge of intercultural interpreting at the NGO. “With the help of external participants, we gave them information about subjects like the Grand Duchy’s institutions and the welcoming of asylum seekers.” She adds that many of the interpreters were once refugees themselves.
Like Baki, Jenny Btyo is very happy to work as an interpreter for the Red Cross. “I like doing the translation. I like being in contact with people. And mostly because I was in the same situation.” Btyo came to France in 1993 as an Iraqi asylum seeker. “When I arrived there, I had to find a place and didn’t know the language. It was very difficult,” she tells Delano. However, the 41-year-old concedes that she was lucky to have part of her family there back then.
Baki had a similar path. “I’ve lived in France since I was 18 years old.” He has an Algerian background and wants to make the best use of it. “I want to be an intermediary between the refugees and the Luxembourgers.” Baki argues that knowing both cultures can be useful to the refugees coming without much background.
The two new interpreters both already had experience in translation. Baki worked as a translator for three months in a Luxembourg institution. For Btyo, it’s a little different. “Since I have been living here for four years, I have helped Iraqi friends with their administrative processes,” she says. She also worked for Luxembourg’s foreigner integration office (Olai) for several months. Then she heard about the Red Cross programme.
Btyo says that she was able to work as a cooking instructor in France. But when she decided to settle in Luxembourg four years ago, she needed her original Iraqi teacher’s diploma certified. Since that was not approved, Btyo decided to dedicate herself to translation. “I really like helping people,” she says enthusiastically. Like all the interpreters at the Red Cross, she will be paid by the hour.
Btyo said that she even started becoming friends with Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Luxembourg. “People phone me a lot. Even sometimes very late at night when they get sick,” she explains. “I know it’s mean, but I started to shut off my phone at 10 p.m.,” Btyo admits.
Baki and Btyo started working with the Red Cross right after completing their course. They both say the experience is going well for them. However, Btyo considers the emotional experience more difficult for her, as a former refugee. “I sometimes hear shocking stories, but for the moment it’s bearable,” she says. “You have to be emotionally strong.” That’s why the Red Cross organises frequent meetings between psychologists and the interpreters.
But that doesn’t stop Btyo from doing a job that she’s passionate about. So much so that she wants to eventually interpret Aramaic. “I want to do the translation for that language too, because some Christian Iraqi refugees speak only this language.”