Asylum hearings in Italy: Who mediates between cultures?

Amalia Agata Maria Amato, Fabrizio Gallai


According to several legal scholars and practitioners, the most crucial factor for refugee status determination (RSD) is whether or not asylum seekers can provide credible evidence of a “well-founded fear” of persecution. However, this adjudication process is extremely complex as psychological, linguistic, and general cultural factors have a substantial impact on credibility. Through examining interpreter-mediated asylum hearings in Italy, our aim is to bring to the fore the interconnections between asylum interpreting practices and (inter)cultural factors. More specifically, emphasis will be put on the roles of communication and culture to elucidate how interpreting enables and restrains asylum seekers in their efforts to establish themselves as deserving of protection. We argue that culturally-bound norms negatively and unevenly influence the outcomes of some asylum cases and support this claim with evidence from interpreter-mediated hearings with asylum seekers and immigration officers in central Italy. In order to analyse this data, we adopt an interaction- and discourse-centred approach. Training for interpreters working in this environment and improving the quality of asylum interpretation services will ultimately lead to fairer refugee status determination procedures and better professional ethics for interpreters.


asylum hearings; interpreting; intercultural communicative competence; power asymmetry; intercultural training

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