The following is an urgent statement regarding the growing crisis of voluntary interpretation for the ESF 2004. It is issued by the 25 coordinators from Babels France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, who took part in a European-wide coordination meeting in London on the weekend of 26-27 September 2004. In short, with only days to go before the ESF begins, there is a looming accommodation and reimbursement of transportation crisis for Babels volunteer interpreters threatening their full participation in the ESF. Unless these problems are resolved quickly, several Babels coordinations will have no choice but to withdraw immediately from the ESF process with potentially disastrous consequences for this year’s event. To avoid this, Babels suggests that a number of solutions are adopted by the organisers. The statement now follows.
Babels, the international network of volunteer interpreters and translators, has been centrally involved in the European Social Forum process since its very beginning. More than 1500 Babels volunteers contributed to the international nature and the two previous ESF in Florence in November 2002 and in Paris in 2003.
We are committed to the development of the Social Forum process and want to take this opportunity to reaffirm Babels’ commitment to the London ESF to which our network will provide over 550 volunteers.
It is therefore only due to the extreme gravity of the situation that some of our volunteer coordinators and coordinations are contemplating withdrawing their participation to the ESF 2004. This is because some essential conditions required for volunteer interpretation to take place have not yet been met, and if the ESF organisers continue to ignore our concerns and demands those conditions are unlikely to be met.
The most important issue concerns the working and living conditions for the 550 volunteer interpreters whose time and skills are being given freely to provide all of the interpretation and translation needs of the ESF. It is the agreed responsibility of the ESF process to provide the following:
* Appropriate accommodation for the 500 Babels volunteers not based in London;
* Immediate reimbursement of all volunteer interpreters’ and translators’ travel costs.
As of Monday 4 October, the ESF has received only 80 offers of home stay accommodation. This represents a massive shortfall in the accommodation needs for Babels volunteers.
Babels-co-ordinators have repeatedly made constructive suggestions to increase the number of home stay offers based on our network’s direct experience of dealing with these issues during the previous ESFs. Unfortunately, none of our proposals have been implemented by the organisers of the ESF, meaning that in comparison with previous ESFs, three fundamental deficiencies exist: (1) there is no accommodation database on the ESF website in which delegates can register online their offer of home stay; (2) there has been no urgent appeal for solidarity accommodation on most of the several thousands of leaflets that have been printed to promote the ESF; (3) delegates are not automatically asked to provide home stay when they register for the event, and 4) there has been no appeal for home stay in the relevant local press.
Simultaneous interpretation is a very stressful and mentally exhausting activity that requires a high level of concentration. It is therefore essential that interpreters have the opportunity to rest and sleep comfortably. This means that the first and most basic condition for the involvement of Babels is that each interpreter be provided with a guarantee of appropriate accommodation. Appropriate accommodation for interpreters means that every single one of them has a bed to sleep in and a shower to wash in and that interpreters are housed in rooms of no more than four people per room.
The crisis of accommodation provision for Babels volunteers at the London ESF is the responsibility of the ESF organisers and therefore Babels makes the following demands:
*/We demand that Babels receives written guarantees that all volunteer interpreters and co-ordinators (more than 500) will be provided with appropriate accommodation. We also demand that concret and immediate action is taken to make those guarantees possible, including a detailed procedure explaining how solidarity accommodation will be secured and how Babels volunteers will be put in contact with their hosts. /*
*/Babels volunteer co-ordinators need to receive the above guarantees by_ Tuesday 5th October at _/**/_5 pm_/**/_._ In the absence of any appropriate action being taken, some Babels volunteer co-ordinators will suspend the final selection of interpreters and Babels will no longer be able to guarantee interpretation for all seminars and plenaries of the ESF. /*
*Reimbursement Crisis and Consequences*
Babels coordinators have spared no effort in trying to find the cheapest possible flights, trains, and coaches to bring volunteer interpreters and coordinators to the ESF so as not to exceed the allocated travel budget. This is saving the ESF huge sums of money. In return, interpreters and coordinators are expecting that the ESF Company will honour its agreement to provide immediate reimbursement on site for all travel expenses.
Unfortunately, with less than 12 days to go before the ESF begins, there is still no system or set of agreed procedures in place for how and when this reimbursement will happen. The need to both implement certain security measures, and observe a number of specific legal requirements in carrying out hundreds of reimbursements means that this process cannot be somehow improvised at the last minute. Consequently, many interpreters and co-ordinators are now increasingly reluctant to carry on with the booking and confirmation of travel arrangements to London, again placing Babels’s participation in the London ESF in jeopardy. Babels makes the following demands:
*/We demand that Babels receives written guarantees that its volunteer interpreters and coordinators will be reimbursed on site during the ESF ’04 from the 13th of October to the 17^th October. These guarantees must include a concrete and detailed procedure for how these reimbursement will be carried out./*
*/Babels volunteer co-ordinators need to receive the above guarantees by_ Wednesday 6^ October at _/**/_2 pm_/**/_._ In the absence of any appropriate action being taken, some Babels volunteer co-ordinators will interrupt the booking and confirmation of travel arrangements and Babels will no longer be able to guarantee interpretation for all seminars and plenaries of the ESF./*
Now is not the time for recriminations and analysis of what has gone wrong and who is to blame. However, the above difficulties are undermining the international nature of the European Social Forum and are endangering the participation of Babels interpreters in future Social Forums. The lack of guarantees of appropriate accommodation and reimbursement of costs have already led to many volunteer interpreters pulling out, and unless satisfactory action is taken now to sort out the problems, hundreds of interpreters may follow suit.
We are appealing to all those responsible for the organisation of the London ESF to respond and help in a constructive manner, and reiterate once again Babels’s true commitment to the success of International Social Forums.
Yours in solidarity,
Volunteer Co-ordinators from Babels France
Volunteer Co-ordinators from Babels Germany
Volunteer Co-ordinators from Babels Italy
Volunteer Co-ordiantors from Babels Spain
Volutneer Co-ordinators from Babels UK