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Interpreting laws. The work of interpreters in the implementation of asylum policies at the heart of asylum seekers’ speech in the French asylum procedure

Migration
Asylum
Policy Implementation
Refugee
Maxime Maréchal
Université Paris Cité
Maxime Maréchal
Université Paris Cité

Abstract

The Common European Asylum System (CEAS) aims to harmonize European migration and asylum policies between the various nation-states (Craig & Zwaan, 2019). It is thus a major instrument of the ambiguous nexus that characterizes European asylum policies, between control and protection (Walter-Franke, 2018). Beside coercive regulations such as the “Dublin protocol”, the “Procedures” directive thus requires that all asylum seekers should have the right to an interpreter during institutional encounters, whether at first instance or before the appeal authority; namely, in France, OFPRA (Office Français de Protection des Réfugiés et Apatrides) and CNDA (Cour Nationale du Droit d’Asile). Despite their major financial, organizational and interactional consequences, interpreting issues in the French asylum procedure has been neglected, with only few exceptions (Pian, 2020). Yet, interpreting activity reveals a complex layout where national law is very vague, enabling OFPRA and CNDA to implement at an institutional level such crucial norms as those dealing with asylum seekers’ speech. In line with the studies that analyze administrative agents’ discretionary power (Spire, 2008), the political implications of the neoliberal turn in the asylum administration (Akoka, 2020), and the ambiguous role of non-officials (D’Halluin-Mabillot, 2012), we will question how institutions shape the work of interpreters, and how the latter ambiguously contribute to implementing asylum interpreting policies. A sociohistorical analysis of administrative archives highlights that both OFPRA and CNDA have developed specific interpreting standards. With both the traces of the negotiations of European directives, and those of their implementation through organizational schemes, they reveal how laws about interpreting become a political stake. In addition, ethnography puts into light the practices of the different actors and the agency of interpreters in putting laws into words.