Phrasebook for Refugees Aims to Ease the Path to Asylum

This crowdsourced effort in 30 languages will aid refugees with basic legal, medical, and orientation phrases.

Migrants outside a train refuse to leave for fear of being taken to a refugee camp set up at Bicske station near Budapest, Hungary. (Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Sep 7, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

If you’ve ever traveled to a foreign country, odds are you picked up a phrasebook to help you navigate public transportation, say hello, and, of course, find the bathroom. A new project led by a group of German volunteers called Berlin Refugee Help is endeavoring to create just such a book, but with a very specific audience in mind: refugees. The crowdsourced phrasebook has more than 200 phrases in roughly 30 languages, according to The Guardian.

The phrases range from basic greetings (“Good evening”) to mental and physical health (“I think about suicide”) to legal questions (“How can I claim asylum?”). Online contributors have translated the phrases from German into Bangla, Urdu, Slovenian, and Turkish, to name a few languages. Answering some of these queries can be tough with a language barrier, but the phrasebook offers a clearer first step for volunteers who are helping refugees find the assistance they need.

Once the translations are complete, the group aims to design, print, and distribute free copies of the book and will finish an online Wikibook version for easier access.

The phrasebook is another example of the way the global community has come together to address the refugee crisis. Most of the members of the Berlin-based group—there are nearly 900 members on Facebook—have not met but are united by a common desire to support the millions of refugees on their treacherous and sometimes deadly journey through Europe. Many of these refugees, predominantly from Syria and Eritrea, among other countries, have fled conflict and poverty only to be greeted by closed borders, anti-migrant fences, and anti-Muslim sentiment.

French-Japanese artist Nine Yamamoto-Masson, who moved to Germany as a child, started the project, The Guardian reported. She said the group also needs a phrasebook for volunteers so the refugees don't solely carry the communication burden. Yamamoto-Masson would like to expand the phrasebook to include a broader spectrum of language.

“We’d like to add more vocabulary for LGBTQI people, more positive phrases so that people can express gratitude, joy, or relief,” Yamamoto-Masson told The Guardian.