what language refugees speak
Refugee Council website


It is often assumed that the majority of the recent migrants are Arabic speakers, but to determine which languages refugees speak one must look at the demographics in detail. Since last year millions of migrants and refugees have come to Europe and a lot of these have Britain as their intended destination. One of the reasons the UK is an attractive destination for refugees and economic migrants is the English language. It is estimated that around half of all the migrants have some English language ability, while very few can speak any German or Swedish.


The UK agreed to take 20,000 refugees, and it was presumed that these would be Syrians. However, a great many more than this have entered the UK illegally and of these it is estimated that only around 25% are from Syria. If any of these are to be settled properly in the UK then they will need to learn to speak English; in the meantime language services will be essential.


Due to the diversity of the migrants, Arabic Syrian translation services won’t be sufficient to help them all. Even among those migrants who are genuine Syrian refugees, Arabic is not necessarily their first language. A significant number of Syrian refugees are Kurds who speak Kurmanji or Sorani. Any serious attempt to provide the necessary language services to cope with the migrant crisis, must address the fact that the majority of migrants are not simply “Syrians” but come from all over the world.


The Refugee Council website provides multilingual information leaflets for refugees and asylum seekers who want to find out more about the asylum process in the UK. It is very revealing to look at the main languages in which these are provided; besides Arabic they are in Chinese, Dari, Farsi, Pashto, Sorani, Amharic, Tamil, Tigrinya, Somali and Urdu. This reveals the fact that many of these migrants are coming from Africa and Asia and are not just Arabic speaking refugees from the Middle East. The migrants from Afghanistan need language services in Pashto if they are to live in the UK.


While some Syrians are well-educated and speak fluent English, there are a significant amount whose English is not sufficient for them to work and live in the UK. This is why there are language learning initiatives to help the migrants learn. Although migrants choose the UK because they believe they can speak English, in practice their English language ability is merely rudimentary. Germany has addressed the language issue head on, realising that failure to provide German language lessons for the migrants could prove catastrophic in the long run. The SpeakOut group is funded by private donations and existing language schools and has been providing courses for migrants. Jutta Gehrig, head of their Frankfurt branch, said of the course for migrants:


“It was a very moving experience (teaching)..At the end of the course the students said, ‘All of us are like your sons now’. Teachers were their first real close contact with German people [so] they became substitute mothers.”


Failure to provide translation services wherever possible will lead to division and the problems it entails. Empowerlingua are committed to providing translation services in all of the aforementioned languages in order to aid refugee integration. No matter what part of the UK you are in, we can provide a professional native speaking translator or interpreter to help migrants to feel at home. Call us for a quote today…

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