Next ACDC meeting, Robert Barsky: “Asocial Injustice: Refugees lost without translation”, 26 November 2013, 12:00-13:30, 06A10

Dear ACDC friends,

On 26th November we welcome Robert Barsky who will be talking and discussing the shameless issue of inhumane treatment of refugees. Barsky proposes a ground-floor activist approach focussing on adequate interpreting and translation techniques that may protect them against ambiguous, arbitrary regulations. On this occasion we are co-organising with the Migration and Diversity Center of the Faculty of Law at the VU. Below you will find an abstract and in the Archive section ( of the website you will find two draft articles by Robert Barsky that serve as background readings.

This lunchtime meeting includes lunch by curtesy of the Migration and Diversity Center. We kindly ask you to notify us if you want to attend: We hope you will join in with a lively discussion at the crossroads of language and social justice.

Kind regards,

The ACDC conveners
Bertie Kaal, Joyce Lamerichs, Alan Cienki, Steve Oswald, Karen Verduyn, Ida Sabelis and Nicolina Montesano Montessori

Invitation to the November meeting of ACDC and the Migration and Diversity Center

“Asocial Injustice: Refugees lost without translation”, Robert Barsky (Vanderbilt University, Nashville, USA and guest researcher in the VU Faculty of Law).

(Co-Organised by the Amsterdam Critical Discourse Community and the Migration and Diversity Center, VU Amsterdam)

Against the background of 9/11, “terrorism”, “crisis” and other political threat-discourses, immigrants and refugees in the United States and Canada are increasingly spending time in local, state and federal prisons for violation of a host of newly-enacted or newly-enforced laws in a context of heightened security. This incarceration is “justified” by a series of memos, laws, proposed laws and programs which, given their arbitrariness and the high level of discretion that leads to their application, are a kind of pernicious legal fiction. In effect, those ‘vulnerable people’ have no claim to rights. Barsky makes a claim that because there’s so much discretion at the ground level — amongst police officers, clerks, jailhouse employees, prison guards, government officers – that translators and interpreters available at crucial moments could literally make the difference between survival and disappearance. A study of migrant incarceration practices in the Southern USA provides ‘live’ evidence.

The problem is that an activist agenda against vague laws and regulations might be absorbed in current policies, rather than changing creating policies that will be viable in the long run. But smaller efforts, like training interpreters and translators to respond adequantley in the early phases of the process, when immigrants encounter officials, could make an immense difference and alleviate some of the ongoing suffering. Time is a major factor because refugees are now lost in legal arbitrariness, even before the official wheels begin to turn, a fact that is exacerbated because the migrants cannot defend themselves adequately because of language barriers. Therefore, appropriate interpretation of the migrants situation is crucial during the initial encounter, because it is during this period of negotiation that a sensitive and qualified interpreter can keep a claimant from incriminating herself or mis-communicating the situation to authority.

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