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The Use of Interpreters in Medical Triage during a Refugee Mass-Gathering Incident in Europe

  • Lykourgos Christos Alexakis (a1), Anastasia Papachristou (a1), Chiara Baruzzi (a2) and Angeliki Konstantinou (a3)
Abstract Introduction

During a refugees’ mass-gathering incident in Kos Island, Greece, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF; Brussels, Belgium) teams provided emergency medical care. A case report of the event focusing on difficulties encountered by the interpreters during triage and emergency response was prepared.


Data collected during the event were reviewed from the patient’s register and qualitative interviews were obtained from the MSF interpreters involved in the response. In addition, a description of the event and a literature review were included.


Total consultations were 49 patients, mainly from Syria, with an average age of 25 years. During triage, 20 patients were tagged green with only minor injuries; 11 patients were tagged yellow, mostly due to heat exhaustion, but also a hypertensive crisis, a diabetic, a pregnant woman with abdominal pain, and a peptic ulcer exacerbation. The remaining 18 patients were tagged red and diagnosed with heat syncope, except from a case of epileptic seizures and an acute chest pain patient. Interpreters were insufficient in number to accompany each doctor and every nurse providing care during the event. In addition, they were constantly disturbed by both refugees and fellow medical team members demanding their service. Interpreters had to triage and prioritize where to go and for whom to interpret.


Interpreters are an integral part of a proper refugee reception system. They should be included in authorities planning where mass gatherings of refugees are expected. Appropriate training may be needed for interpreters to develop skills useful in mass gatherings and similar prehospital settings in order to better coordinate with the medical team.

Alexakis LC Papachristou A Baruzzi C Konstantinou A . The Use of Interpreters in Medical Triage during a Refugee Mass-Gathering Incident in Europe. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2017;32(6):684687.

Corresponding author
Correspondence: Lykourgos Christos Alexakis, MD, DTM, MSc Médecins Sans Frontières Athens, Greece E-mail:
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Conflicts of interest: none

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