Translation app helps refugees overcome communication problems



Mon, 08 May 2017 - 05:24 GMT


Mon, 08 May 2017 - 05:24 GMT

Tarjimly facebook page

Tarjimly facebook page

CAIRO – 8 May 2017: A new translation device called “Tarjimly” (translate for me) was launched to assist refugees around the world. The application is powered through Facebook messenger and is user-friendly as it connects translators to people who need translation help.

The simple idea of Tarjimly is that when a refugee or aid worker needs assistance, all he/she has to do is to message the Tarjimly Facebook page and select the language they need. The application then will anonymously connect them to available and matching translators within about 30 seconds. Refugees can choose what they want to share and they can rate the session at the end.

The idea of the app was developed when a group of five Muslim-American college friends heard heart-rending and life-changing stories from their friends who volunteered in refugee camps in Greece. The stories outlined the communication problems between refugees and the medical staff which often created complications in some medical cases.

Refugees and immigrants struggle upon arrival to the hosting countries because of the challenges they face including language barriers and communication problems.

In an interview with technology blog in February 2017, Atif Javed, Co-founder and Product Manager of the Tarjimly application, recalled hearing a story about a refugee family in Greece who took their sick two-month-old baby to the medical facility at the camp. The parents misunderstood the instructions from the doctor, and believed it was safe for them to return home. The miscommunication ended up costing the parents the child's life.

Furthermore, the group was spurred by stories of relatives and friends who were detained at American airports in January this year after U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration. They were stuck at the airports and struggled to communicate in English.

Later in February, the group was inspired and decided to launch the application as they wanted to contribute to the ongoing refugee crisis and support refugees and immigrants around the world.

“We brainstormed the idea of being able to crowd source translators and get them quickly connected to people who need translation help. That way, every volunteer, and even every refugee, has a translator in their pocket,” Javed said.

Tarjimly connects refugees and aid workers to translators. Volunteers across the world can personally register themselves as translators by filling an online form, in which they can list the languages they can write and speak.

After filling the forms, the translators will be on the standby mode and ready to receive translation requests in the form of Facebook message. The application list of languages includes Arabic, Farsi, Turkish, Pashto, English, French, Urdu, and German. More than 1000 volunteer translators are registered with the application; half of them come from United States and United Kingdom.

This app managed to provide refugees and immigrants with the help they need in communicating with doctors, aid workers, legal representatives and other vital services in a new country. It also helped them search for separated family members, identify their locations and reach channels to raise complaints and voice concerns.

Tarjimly isn't the first service of its kind. There are other apps on the market to help refugees while they travel as well as Facebook groups like “Rapid Response Refugee Translators”, which employs volunteers to translate documents and conversations in a timely fashion. But Tarjimly provides an easy and direct pipeline for refugees and immigrants to find translators in a way that could help fill gaps.

When asked on how Tarjimly is different than any other translation application including Google translate, Javed answered “if you have ever used Google Translate for Arabic, you will see why that is not going to work. It’s a very poor way to translate for people; it’s not a human interface,” he said in a phone interview with the digital platform

“It makes huge difference when people are able to interact with a human; they [translators] can understand the situation and they can give a lot more context in their responses,” he added.

The way forward

Tarjimly founders are constantly working to further develop and expand the uses of their application so they work to develop partnerships with organizations working with refugees. They also hope that the application would serve as an inspiration for people to utilize their skills to better serve humanity and positively impact lives.

“We did explore the idea of offering really good translators opportunities for payment instead of working pro bono, and then connecting them with businesses. Then we would have translators on demand, like Uber for translators. But that’s a long-term vision. For now, we want to make sure we’re helping people out,” Javid said in his interview with

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees agency (UNHCR), the world is currently witnessing the highest levels of displacements ever. By the end of 2015, 63.5 million people around the world were forced to flee their homes.

This number includes 21.3 million refugees, 40.8 million internally displaced people and 3.2 million asylum seekers. Sadly, over half of these refugees are under the age of 18 and the UNCHR reports that 98,400 asylum applications were filed by unaccompanied or separated children, according to UNHCR.

A total of 54 percent of all refugees come from just three countries, namely Somalia (1.1 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million), and Syria (4.9 million). Turkey is the top host of refugees, with 2.5 million people crossing the Turkish borders. “A little less than one percent of the earth's population is either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee,” said the UNHCR report published in June 2016 on the occasion of World Refugee Day.



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