Different in the same way? Accommodating language, culture and disability in refugee procedures

How do government and non-government authorities understand and accommodate diversity in their interactions with refugees and asylum seekers?

Event details


May 04, 2016
from 04:30 PM to 06:00 PM


BEN LT10 Bennet Ground floor Geology Department Lecture Theatre 10 University of Leicester

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0116 223 1070


This event is open to everyone, but booking is advised. The lecture is free and open to all.
This is a joint event by the Unit for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement (DICE), and Leicester Migration Network.

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About the Seminar

This seminar brings together findings from two different research projects on refugees, dealing with a common question: how do government and non-government authorities understand and accommodate diversity in their interactions with refugees and asylum seekers?

The first part of the seminar draws on the emerging findings of doctoral research in linguistics, conducted at Macquarie University. It focuses on the assessment of credibility in Australian asylum procedures. Using critical discourse analysis, I evaluate credibility assessment guidelines for asylum appeal decision makers, along with a selection of published decisions.

The second part of the seminar is based on a three-year research project conducted by a team from Sydney Law School, at the University of Sydney. This project sought to explore the experiences of refugees with disabilities across six countries (Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Uganda, Jordan and Turkey) in light of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The focus here was primarily on the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and how it interacts with and accommodates persons with disabilities in displacement situations.
In these two case studies, the responsible institutions (the Australian Immigration Department and UNHCR respectively) acknowledge that refugees and asylum seekers may need particular assistance or accommodation due to their diversity. However, the culture of the institution itself can create difficulties. The tendency to standardise or simplify difference can mean that persons of a given culture, religion, gender or country of origin are expected to act in standardly different ways. Standard categorisation also applies for disability: a person can be coded as having, for example, a vision impairment or a physical impairment, but little may be actually known about the person’s lived experience, their individual needs and capabilities in displacement and other important aspects of their lives. This limits the suitability of operational responses and procedures and may lead to false and discriminatory assumptions.

Both studies support the conclusion that the concept of diversity needs to be more closely and critically examined, alongside institutional discourses that value categorisation and standardisation. This would better allow the development of policy and procedure which are truly inclusive, and that best promote and ensure the rights of people seeking international protection as refugees. 

About our Discussant

A picture of Laura Smith-KhanLaura Smith-Khan is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Linguistics at Macquarie University. Under the supervision of Professor Ingrid Piller, Laura is conducting research on language and communication in Australia’s refugee policy and procedures.


As part of a team from the Sydney Centre for International Law, she has also conducted multi-site fieldwork across six countries, researching disability in refugee camps and urban refugee settings. With Chief Investigators, Professors Mary Crock, Ron McCallum and Ben Saul, she has presented the project findings at the United Nations and Harvard Law School, as well as in published reports, articles and book chapters. The team are now finalising a book that brings together the project’s major findings.

Laura holds a Bachelor of Arts (Languages) (Distinction) and a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) (University of Sydney), a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (Australian National University) and a Master in Applied Linguistics (Monash University). She has been admitted as a legal practitioner in the NSW Supreme Court and has worked with refugees in a para-legal capacity. She teaches at Sydney Law School and Macquarie Law School.


Mary Crock & Laura Smith-Khan, ‘Swift and systematic? Identifying and recording disability in forced migration’ in B. Altman (Ed.) International Measurement of Disability – Purpose, Method and Application (Springer, forthcoming).

Laura Smith-Khan, ‘Negotiating Narratives, Accessing Asylum: Evaluating language policy as multi-level practice, beliefs and management’ Multilingua (forthcoming)

Laura Smith-Khan, Mary Crock, Ron McCallum AO & Ben Saul, ‘“Up to Now I am Suffering”: Justice, Sexual Violence and Disability amongst Refugees in Uganda’ (2015) 1(4) International Journal of Migration and Border Studies 348

Laura Smith-Khan, Mary Crock, Ben Saul & Ron McCallum AO, ‘To “Promote, Protect and Ensure”: Overcoming Obstacles to Identifying Disability in Forced Migration’ (2015) 28(1) Journal of Refugee Studies 38

Laura Smith-Khan, ‘Overcoming Barriers to Education for Refugees with Disabilities’ (2013) 3 Migration Australia 63

Laura Smith-Khan, ‘Genuine Improvement or Paying Lip Service? Conquering the Communication Complexities in Protection Assessments’ (2012) 2 Migration Australia 58

Find out more about our discussant by visiting https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Laura_Smith-Khan

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Find our more about the Leicester Migration Network here.


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Professor Surinder SharmaProfessor Surinder Sharma
Co-Director, Honorary Visiting Fellow

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Sajidah Ali
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0116 223 1070


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