Your PRRA and its translation, a matter of life and death.

Shock and disbelief: Your application for refuge here in Canada has been denied. Your last hope is the PRRA (Pre-Removal Risk Assessment). You can't go back, your life is in danger. Such and such criminal group never forgets nor forgives. If you go back you will surely be murdered, but not before being tortured and then disappeared. Not only that, but your wife and children's lives are in danger too. Perhaps you've indicated that the female members of the family could be violated and the children forcible recruited into the rebel army. So the PRRA is your last hope. The people at Immigration Canada have to believe that your story is true. Is it?

Perhaps you would never know from the quality of your translations. Look at it from the perspective of Immigration Canada: You say all this is true, and yet to save a few dollars your translated documents - the evidence that will save your lives - are so badly translated that you leave the officials' heads spinning trying to make sense of it. You've paid an amateur to it because (in the best of cases) you don't have the money for a professional to do it.

I had a client who came to me who needed his documents translated at the last moment. He had intended to send documents that he himself had translated with Google Translate, but then thought better of it. Did the translations have to be certified?", he asked." It's better if you do", I answered. "Yeah but, I know others who haven't and they never said anything about it", he replied. "Well," I said, "Your life and that of your family is in danger etc, etc., and you're going to risk it for a mere X dollars?" "When the immigration officials who decide the cases see that, do you think that they're going to take you very seriously?

Remember, it's a case (in part) of making the officials believe your story. Will you really die if you go back? I've had the chance to read translations that amateur translators have done. Obviously the clients have gone to them to save some money. There's a difference, for example, between translating "extorsión" in Spanish, into "blackmail" as opposed to translating it as "extortion". The criminal group was extorting money from the business. If you translate the word "blackmail" (this in an actual case), it implies that you did something wrong which is being used against you for the purposes of extortion. Is that the message you want to convey to Immigration Canada? I think not.

Another problem that I've noted with some amateur translators is that English is not their native language. There is no substitute for having been raised and educated in an English culture. It takes a life-time to learn the subtleties and idioms of a culture and sometimes even a formal education in English at a foreign university won't do it. Occasionally, for example, a saying or idiom has no equivalent in English and the amateur translator is at a loss as to how to express it. What to do? Sometimes the translator will just wing it and render it exactly as he/she sees or knows it, with laughable results sometimes. I've also seen inverted word order, transliterations ( "Es un gusto conocerle"- "It's a gusto to know you" - and a host of other mistakes. Of course, amateur translators might argue that Spanish (the language I work in) is their native language and that that gives them the advantage. Yes, it's good that Spanish is their native language, but the language being read by the immigration officials is English. Given a choice of the two (of course the best scenario is that the translator be a native of both languages), a native English speaker is preferable by far.

Back to the PRRA. You want the Immigration official to believe you. Your life is in danger and you don't make the effort to hand in well translated documents?

Some refugee claimants might argue that they had no choice; that they don't have the money to pay for a professional. You remember the horrible day. You received a phone call, your loved one was kidnapped and the kidnappers wanted X amount of dollars, or if not they'd kill the loved one. In a panic, you retire your life savings, you turn to relatives and friends and ask for loans. You sell off assets - you'd sell your organs if that were possible. Beg, borrow, steal. All this with a view to saving that person. That's what you'd do if you or your loved one were facing certain death. I've actually said to people: "If it's true you're going to die if you go back, why are representing yourself? Get a lawyer! Max out the credit card. Sell the car or what it takes to find the money. Why an amateur translator to save a few hundred? Imagine it from the perspective of the immigration official: You're allegedly going back to certain death and yet you send your documents in late; there are few proofs, they're badly organized because you did it yourself; they're poorly translated, etc., etc. Does that sound like someone who really fears returning? There is no doubt that returning would be inconvenient, but are you going to die? Maybe the immigration official is a person of integrity and compassion and wants to believe you - are you giving that person good reason to do so?

So I would I would advise the PRRA applicant to make the investment and ensure that everything about the application, including the translation, is of topnotch quality. Too much depends on it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonathan Whiteside is a professional translator working in the English and Spanish languages. He lives in Toronto, Ontario.