Webinar: Language in Protective Humanitarian Action: Practical lessons from Myanmar/Bangladesh and Northeast Nigeria

Date Published: November 30, 2018 Author: InterAction
Photo of Webinar: Language in Protective Humanitarian Action: Practical lessons from Myanmar/Bangladesh and Northeast Nigeria

Moderator: Jenny McAvoy, Director of Protection at InterAction

Presenter: Ellie Kemp, Head of Crisis Response at Translators without Borders

Expert Speakers:

  1. Tiffany Easthom, Executive Director at Nonviolent Peaceforce
  2. Mia Marzotto, Senior Advocacy Officer at Translators without Borders (based in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh);
  3. Noreen Omondi, Protection & Rule of Law Coordinator at IRC (based in Maiduguri, Nigeria)

Humanitarian actors are often engaged in responses in highly multi-lingual environments, yet translation and language knowledge does not tend to prominently feature in program design and evaluation. Principle 22 from the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement states the following:

Internally displaced persons, whether or not they are living in camps, shall not be discriminated against as a result of their displacement in the enjoyment of the following rights:

(e) The right to communicate in a language they understand

The reality of multi-lingual environments is exemplified in the cases of the Rohingya in Myanmar/Bangladesh and the IDP situation in Northeast Nigeria. Compounded with low literacy rates, especially among women and other vulnerable populations, language barriers can, and often do, heighten protection risks. Consequences include skewed needs assessments, reduced access to services, and further straining existing tensions.

Results-based approaches to protection aim to put affected populations at the center of analysis and a fundamental piece to quality analysis is obtaining accurate data: being able to communicate effectively with affected individuals, in a language and format they can understand, is central to that process.

This webinar discussion aimed to explore the implications of multilingual communication in protective humanitarian action. The webinar engaged Translators without Borders and several practitioners working in protection to discuss how the languages and formats of communication can impact affected populations. Drawing on case examples from forced displacement situations in Northeast Nigeria and Myanmar/Bangladesh, the discussion explored steps humanitarian actors can take to improve effective two-way communication, including:

  1. How and what information organizations should collect on languages spoken and understood, communication preferences, and access to information
  2. What types of indicators organizations should monitor throughout program implementation related to language and communication
  3. The necessity of creating effective channels of communication based on language data, and having the flexibility to adapt programming based on new information and understanding of people’s experiences in humanitarian crises
  4. Collectively building language support for interpretation, translation, terminology development

To view the full webinar:


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