Dr Laura Smith-Khan is a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney. Commencing in January 2019, her research explores how Australian migration lawyers and agents communicate with and on behalf of their clients.
Laura's doctoral research (conducted at Macquarie University and supervised by Professor Ingrid Piller and Dr Daniel Ghezelbash) explored credibility, language and communication in Australia’s refugee policy, procedures and public discourse. She has published and presented her research across a number of media, both in Australia and overseas.
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, from the Sydney Centre for International Law, Sydney Law School, she has presented the project findings at the United Nations, at conferences in Australia, Europe and North America, and in published reports, peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. In 2017, Laura and the team published a book that brings together the project’s major findings. In 2018, Laura was commissioned to prepare a background paper for UNESCO's Global Education Monitoring Report. Laura is also a regular contributor to the online research portal, Language on the Move.
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 and pro-bono capacity.
She currently teaches Ethics Law and Justice in UTS Faculty of Law and has also guest lectured in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. She has previousy taught courses in Public International Law, Human Rights and Global Governance, Refugee Law and Policy, and Common Law and Legal Reasoning at Sydney Law School and Macquarie Law School, and assisted with research at Macquarie Law School and postgraduate and undergraduate assessments in the Department of Linguistics, Macquarie University.
Admitted as a lawyer in the Supreme Court of NSW
Co-chair and Co-founder, Law and Linguistics Interdisciplinary Researchers Network
Member, International Association of Forensic Linguists
Member, Australian Linguistics Society
Member, Language on the Move research group
Can supervise: YES
Migration law, procedures and communication
International human rights law, refugee rights and disability rights
Social justice and the law
Critical Discourse Studies
Ethics Law and Justice
Crock, M, Smith-Khan, L, McCallum, R & Saul, B 2017, The Legal Protection of Refugees with Disabilities Forgotten and Invisible?, Edward Elgar Publishing.
Engaging and thought-provoking, this book will captivate any scholar studying international law, development, disability rights and refugee and forced migration studies.
This article examines how communicative resources affect the construction of credible texts and identities in a public debate on Australia's treatment of a refugee. It centres on two key written statements—one from the Immigration Minister, and another from a Somali refugee. The analysis is divided into four levels, exploring the parties’ respective linguistic, material, identity, and platform resources, and how these impact their statements’ creation and reception, and their participation in discourse creation more generally. The article finds that there are inequalities on all four resource levels that largely undermine the refugee's ability to present a credible text and identity and challenge mainstream discourse on refugees. The article demonstrates how a multi-level analysis of communicative resources can challenge assumptions about participation and uncover inequalities invisible in the prevailing discourse
This article explores public debates about credibility in media discourse regarding a Somali refugee who was raped on Nauru. Given the pseudonym “Abyan”, she was living on Nauru as a result of Australian refugee policy and was brought to Australia for medical assistance. Her treatment by the Australian authorities became the subject of debate and was widely discussed in the Australian media. Analyzing a corpus of media articles reporting and commenting on this debate, this article explores how the media’s representations of the key actors shape their credibility. Reflecting existing research, this article finds that Abyan’s experience is used to support broader policy arguments. Further, the discourse presents Abyan as a key speaker, despite her limited ability to defend her credibility. The article concludes that credibility remains an important theme in discourse on refugees and that power asymmetries hidden within this discourse create obstacles for those wishing to challenge it.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) creates duties for States Parties and UN agencies to ensure that individuals under their protection have equal enjoyment of the full range of human rights. This includes the Article 25 right to enjoy ‘the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination on the basis of disability.’ However, refugees, who are forced to seek protection outside their state, face particular obstacles to maintaining an adequate level of wellbeing and accessing services to meet their health needs. Among this group, those who have a disability may confront multiple intersecting challenges.
This paper draws on the findings of research across countries that play host to significant refugee populations. It explores the contribution of the CRPD to the international human rights framework for refugees, with particular attention to the right to health. Incorporating evidence from the field, it discusses the implementation of these rights and related duties in humanitarian responses across the world. The article discusses common barriers to health services for refugees with disabilities in six host countries. Based on the broad conceptualization of health and wellbeing established in the international legal framework, it also examines the relationship between the fulfilment of Article 25 and other basic socioeconomic rights. It provides examples of good practice and identifies strategies to better ensure the rights set out in Article 25 of the CRPD.
© The Author (2017). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. There is a growing awareness of the challenges associated with communicating and decision making in the intercultural setting of refugee status determination processes. However, the way institutions conceptualize diversity has significant implications for how accommodating these processes will actually be of diversity, including in credibility assessments - a key component of many asylum regimes. This article aims to explore how Australian guidance on credibility for refugee review decision makers discursively presents diversity, and the impacts this has on decisions in which asylum seekers' credibility is a central concern. With reference to institutional guidelines, it identifies how applicants for asylum use the issue of diversity when seeking to overcome credibility issues, and how decision makers respond to this. The article argues that, far from fairly accommodating all the diverse participants who must navigate these procedures, institutional discourse on diversity can create obstacles for applicants when it comes to maintaining or re-establishing their credibility. It finds that this is due to clashes between the way the merits review tribunal understands diversity, and the way it is conceptualized and presented by applicants when explaining their experiences and motivations, and when challenging structural and communicative barriers threatening their credibility. It shows that decision makers and applicants are constructed as different types of people, with the latter assumed to be affected by, and inextricably tied to, their social and cultural difference, while the former are assumed to represent a 'normal' or neutral way of being and thinking.
Smith-Khan, L 2017, 'Negotiating narratives, accessing asylum: Evaluating language policy as multi-level practice, beliefs and management', Multilingua, vol. 36, no. 1, pp. 31-57.View/Download from: Publisher's site
© 2017 by De Gruyter Mouton 2017. Theories of language policy increasingly emphasise focusing on the specific contexts in which language management occurs. In government settings, policy seeks to shape how individuals interact with officials. Australian asylum procedure is an area where policy aims at tight control. I examine how communication is managed in this setting, in which successful outcomes are so important. After reviewing the relevant policy documents, I explore the experiences of individual refugees and migration agents through a series of qualitative interviews. I consider the relationship between language management, beliefs and practice in this context and find that individual experiences in this setting can differ. This article demonstrates the impact of several agents in the co-construction of the refugee narrative, noting that while standardisation is institutionally valued, variation is inevitable. The findings suggest that outcomes depend on much more than just official policy.
Smith-Khan, L 2017, 'Telling stories: Credibility and the representation of social actors in Australian asylum appeals', Discourse and Society, vol. 28, no. 5, pp. 512-534.View/Download from: Publisher's site
© 2017, © The Author(s) 2017. To secure protection in the global North, asylum-seekers must overcome restrictive government policies and present a convincing refugee narrative. Their credibility becomes their main asset and must survive the multiple challenges arising from intercultural communication and interactions involving multiple institutional actors. Aiming to explore the impact institutional understandings of refugee narrative creation have on credibility assessment, I present the findings of an analysis of a corpus of documents from the Australian tribunal responsible for the administrative review of asylum decisions. I critically analyse these texts to identify how the tribunal and its agents discursively present the various actors involved in asylum appeals. I argue that despite the cautions of existing scholarship, these texts present the asylum-seeker as the sole author of the final refugee narrative, regardless of the role that decision-makers and other actors, such as lawyers and interpreters, play in its co-construction. Thus, the institution places disproportionate responsibility on the asylum-seeker for communication outcomes, creating significant challenges for their credibility.
Smith-Khan, L, Crock, M, McCallum, R & Saul, B 2015, ''Up to now I am suffering': justice, sexual violence and disability amongst refugees in Uganda', International Journal of Migration and Border Studies, vol. 1, no. 4, pp. 348-348.View/Download from: Publisher's site
Smith-Khan, L, Crock, M, Saul, B & Mccallum, R 2015, 'To 'promote, protect and ensure': Overcoming obstacles to identifying disability in forced migration', Journal of Refugee Studies, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 38-68.View/Download from: Publisher's site
© The Author 2014. Every year, millions of people are forcibly displaced as a result of natural or human-made disasters. Although a significant proportion are persons living with a disability, remarkably little is known about the incidence and type of disabilities they experience. To design services that best respect rights and address needs, effective procedures must be devised to identify persons with disabilities in situations of displacement. This article draws on initial findings from research funded by Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs, conducted with the cooperation of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in four countries: Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan and Uganda. It examines methods used by UNHCR and its partners for identifying disability in populations of displaced persons. The authors present a tool for the identification of disabilities designed to overcome some of the challenges observed. They argue that to reflect the values enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, identification tools should not focus simply on impairment, using a medical approach or disability labelling. Rather, questions should be asked about functionality and a person's assistance needs. Proper identification of disability would go some way to ensuring equal access to appropriate assistance and protection for all refugees.
Smith-Khan, L 2013, 'Overcoming Barriers to Education for Refugees with Disabilities', Migration Australia, vol. 3.
Smith-Khan, L 2012, 'Genuine Improvement or Paying Lip Service? Conquering the Communication Complexities in Protection Assessments', Migration Australia, vol. 2, pp. 58-62.
Crock, M & Smith-Khan, L 2016, 'Swift and systematic? Identifying and recording disability in forced migration' in Altman, B (ed), International Measurement of Disability Purpose, Method and Application, Springer, Switzerland.
This volume provides an informed review of the accomplishments of the Washington Group on Disability Statistics (WG) in the provision of international data and statistics on disability.
Smith-Khan, L & Crock, M UNESCO 2018, Making rights to education real for refugees with disabilities (Background Paper), Global Education Monitoring Report, 2019, Geneva.
Smith-Khan, L 2019, '“Oh, the places you’ll go!” Reflecting on my PhD journey'.
Smith-Khan, L 2019, 'Debating refugee credibility'.
Smith-Khan, L 2018, 'In search of a language and an identity'.
Smith-Khan, L 2018, 'Interview on Breakfast with Joanne Shoebridge', ABC Radio North Coast.
Smith-Khan, L 2018, 'Refugee discourse, the media and communicative resources: the case of “Abyan”'.
Smith-Khan, L 2018, 'Schooling challenges of multilingual children'.
Smith-Khan, L 2017, 'Are we all different in the same way?'.
Smith-Khan, L 2017, 'Forgotten and Invisible? The legal protection of refugees with disabilities'.
Smith-Khan, L 2017, 'Telling stories? Credibility in asylum interviews'.
Smith-Khan, L 2016, 'Crucial communication: Language Management in Australian asylum interviews'.
Smith-Khan, L 2016, 'Different in the same way? Accommodating language, culture and disability in refugee assessment procedures and humanitarian assistance'.
invited seminar presentation, co-hosted by Leicester Migration Network and the Unit for Diversity, Inclusion & Community Engagement
Smith-Khan, L 2016, 'Truly deserving? Credibility assessment in Australia refugee procedures'.
Smith-Khan, L 2015, 'Discrimination by any other name: Language tests and racist migration policy in Australia'.
Smith-Khan, L 2015, 'Don’t know what “jurisdictional error” means? Some people’s future depends on it'.
Smith-Khan, L 2015, 'Fair go? Communication and credibility in Australian asylum procedures'.
Smith-Khan, L 2015, 'Interviewing refugees with disabilities: How context affects communication'.
Smith-Khan, L 2015, 'We all have a culture, we all speak a language: the Australian legal system discusses diversity'.
Smith-Khan, L, Crock, M & McCallum, R 2015, 'Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Response: Case Studies and Good Practices'.
Side panel presentation, hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Abbas, F 2013, '“Laura committed to improve procedures to identify, protect refugees with disabilities”', Pakistan Special, pp. 5-5.
Interview (cover story) for Pakistan Special
Tong, K 2013, 'Asylum Seekers: A Compassionate Approach', Hope 103.2FM.
Smith-Khan, L, Crock, M & Sario, K 2012, 'To “Promote, protect and ensure”: Overcoming obstacles to identifying disability in displacement situations'.
Smith-Khan, L, 'Susanne van der Kleij, Interaction in Dutch asylum interviews: A Corpus study of interpreter-mediated institutional discourse. LOT dissertation series. 2015, Netherlands Graduate School of Linguistics/Landelijke (LOT) (book review)', Linguist List.