Laura 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. She has published and presented her research across a number of media, both in Australia and overseas.

As part of a team from the Sydney Centre for International Law, Sydney Law School, 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. Laura and the team have also recently published 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 and pro-bono capacity. She has taught courses in Public International Law, Human Rights, and Australian Common Law at Sydney Law School and Macquarie Law School and assisted in legal research at Macquarie Law School.

Research Experience

2012 – Present: Research Assistant, Sydney Law School, University of Sydney

Full-time Research Assistant from 2012-2014 coordinating research for the Protection of Refugees with Disabilities project, with CIs Professor Mary Crock, Emeritus Professor Ron McCallum, and Professor Ben Saul.

From 2015 onwards, part-time Research Assistant to Professor Mary Crock, assisting with projects related to migration, refugee law and disability.

2014 – Present: Doctoral Candidate, Linguistics Department, Macquarie University

Full-time Doctoral Candidate, under the supervision of Professor Ingrid Piller (Linguistics) and associate supervision of Dr Daniel Ghezelbash (Law). The research focuses on language, communication and credibility in Australia’s refugee policy and procedures.

2016 – 2017: Research Officer, Macquarie Law School, Macquarie University

Providing research assistance to Dr Daniel Ghezelbash, Macquarie Law School.

Teaching Experience

2015 – Present: Lecturer, Sydney Law School, University of Sydney

Conducting lectures and workshops on the Australian Common Law and case analysis for the Law School’s Orientation Program. In 2017, also conducted lectures on statutory interpretation, criminal law, public international law and academic writing for the post-graduate intensive ‘Common Law and Legal Reasoning’.

2015 – 2016: Tutor, Macquarie Law School, Macquarie University

Designing and conducting tutorials and marking for Law, Human Rights and Global Governance and Public International Law.



Mary Crock, Laura Smith-Khan, Ron McCallum & Ben Saul, The Legal Protection of Refugees with Disabilities: Forgotten and Invisible?, Elgar Studies in Human Rights (Edward Elgar, August 2017).

Journal articles

Laura Smith-Khan, ‘Different in the same way?: Language, diversity and refugee credibility’ International Journal of Refugee Law (forthcoming – vol. 29, no. 3).

Laura Smith-Khan, ‘Telling Stories: Credibility and the representation of social actors in Australian asylum appeals’ (2017) 28(5) Discourse & Society 512-534.

Laura Smith-Khan, ‘Negotiating Narratives, Accessing Asylum: Evaluating language policy as multi-level practice, beliefs and management’ (2017) 36(1) Multilingua 31-57.

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 348-371.

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 38-68.

Laura Smith-Khan, ‘Overcoming Barriers to Education for Refugees with Disabilities’ (2013) 3 Migration Australia 63-67.

Laura Smith-Khan, ‘Genuine Improvement or Paying Lip Service? Conquering the Communication Complexities in Protection Assessments’ (2012) 2 Migration Australia 58-62.

Book chapters

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, 2016).

Book reviews

Laura Smith-Khan, Philipp Sebastian Angermeyer: Speak English or What? Codeswitching and interpreter use in New York City courts, 2015, New York: Oxford University Press, x; 248 pp, book review, (2017) 36(3) Multilingua 347-352.

Laura Smith-Khan, Diana Eades, Aboriginal ways of using English. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2013. Pp. x, 256. Pb. $39.95, book review, (2016) 45(2) Language in Society 315-318.

Laura Smith-Khan, 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, (2016) (27-1977) Linguist List


Laura Smith-Khan, ‘Forgotten and Invisible? The legal protection of refugees with disabilities’, research blog post (11 September 2017)

Laura Smith-Khan, ‘Telling stories? Credibility in asylum interviews’, research blog post (14 June 2017)

Laura Smith-Khan, ‘Crucial communication: Language Management in Australian asylum interviews’ research blog post, (15 March 2016)

Laura Smith-Khan, ‘Discrimination by any other name: Language tests and racist migration policy in Australia’, research blog post (9 December 2015)

Laura Smith-Khan, ‘Don’t know what “jurisdictional error” means? Some people’s future depends on it’, research blog post (26 August 2015)

Laura Smith-Khan, ‘We all have a culture, we all speak a language: the Australian legal system discusses diversity’, research blog post (22 April 2015)

More at:


Links to the reports from our fieldwork are now available on the blog - see the right hand side of this page. Both PDF and Microsoft Word document versions are available. Word doc versions are compatible with screen readers and have Alt Text descriptions for graphs, tables and images throughout the reports. Please let us know if there are any technical difficulties.

We welcome all feedback!


Since finishing our three years of fieldwork last year, we have had the chance to share our findings with two trips to the US. In January, we traveled and presented our findings at a workshop hosted by Harvard Law School. In June, we attended and made three presentations at the 8th Conference of States Parties to the CRPD at the United Nations in New York.

We hope to continue using this blog as a hub where visitors can access links to or files of our research outputs. These can be found on the right-hand side of the page, under the heading "Our Publications". Please check back for updates as we continue to prepare and publish more articles, chapters, reports and maybe even a book!



We are now back from the final leg in our fieldwork, having spent 5 weeks in Jordan and Turkey, looking at the situation for Syrian refugees with disabilities.

This trip presented yet again a very different setting. War injuries and trauma-related difficulties were very common. And the sheer number of refugees who have arrived in a relatively short period of time has created challenges. Tensions are high amongst local host communities, as resources like housing, healthcare and water are stretched thin.


We are now in the final stages of data analysis and hope to have country reports, and a global report up on the blog before the year is out.


While the research team has been a bit quiet on the blog, we have been busy working on a few different things. For starters, we have drafted a report on our Uganda trip, which is currently being reviewed by the key stakeholders. Stay tuned for more.

Also, we have recently had an article on the research published. Dealing with identifying disability in displacement, we draw on our field research to date. The article details are:

Laura Smith-Khan, Mary Crock, Ben Saul, and Ron McCallum, 'To ‘Promote, Protect and Ensure’: Overcoming Obstacles to Identifying Disability in Forced Migration' Journal of Refugee Studies first published online July 7, 2014 doi:10.1093/jrs/feu020

The full article can be found here.

For those who do not have access to Oxford Journals, a pre-review version of the article is available here.

A full list of links for our publications can be found on the bottom right-hand corner of this blog.

We have also been preparing a report on extensive data collected by UNHCR and its partners in Pakistan, which includes valuable disability disaggregated data.

Finally, we are preparing to undertake the last leg of our fieldwork journey, with research in Jordan and Turkey. We hope to share our experiences during those trips - internet connection permitting!


Although it is long overdue, I thought it would be a good idea to share our experience in Uganda. We had hoped to be able to post regularly during the trip, but the internet quality let us down.

In this post, I will summarise our activities during the first week of our trip. The following weeks will follow.

Uganda welcome sign.jpg

During our first week in Uganda, in late August, Professors Mary Crock and Ron McCallum, Hannah Martin and I (Laura Smith-Khan) were based in Kampala, the Ugandan capital.

This week entailed a number of meetings with officials and lectures and seminars involving various members of the government and civil society, working in the area of disability rights.

meeting ministers.jpg
Meeting at the Ministry of Gender, Labour & Social Development, L-R: Hannah Martin, Laura Smith-Khan, Hon. Madada Kyebakoze Sulaiman (Minister of State for Elderly and Disability Affairs), Professor Mary Crock, Hon. Mary Karooro Okurut (Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development), Professor Ron McCallum.

Mr Mwesigwa Martin Babu was an invaluable support in the lead-up to and during our trip. He helped us to organise many of our meetings and was our key contact within the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU). He also organised a public lecture on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at which Professor McCallum was the speaker. This brought together representatives of Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs) and various Ugandan government dignitaries.


We also met the UNHCR Country Representative, Mr Mohammed Abdi Adar and Senior Community Services officer, Ms Elsa Bokhre and representatives of the Refugee Law Project (Makerere University). They gave us an overview of the situation for refugees in Uganda, as well as providing crucial logistical support and advice for our trips to the refugee settlements.

Meeting at UNHCR Kampala. L-R: Laura Smith-Khan, Elsa Bokhre, Professor Mary Crock, Professor Ron McCallum, Mohammed Abdi Adar.

The first week of our trip also introduced us to Uganda: a beautiful country, with friendly people. While it continues to face development challenges, we were impressed by the sophistication of the disability rights movement in Uganda. Its DPOs were numerous and well organised. Persons with disabilities are recognised in national legislation and are represented at every level of government.

It was also a positive experience to carry out fieldwork in a country which is a party to the Refugee Convention and hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees. In the next post, I will share our experiences heading into the refugee settlements in the south-western Uganda.

Scene on the road near Entebbe airport. All photos are our own. Please ask permission before reproducing or using them.


Any exciting plans for the weekend? We are leaving this evening to fly to Kampala, Uganda, for the next round of field work. It will be my first trip to Africa and about the furthest I've ever been from home (on par with Europe in terms of travel time).

Photo courtesy of Simisa, taken from Wikipedia Commons

The lead-up to this trip has been in some ways the most challenging - we have needed to go through a process of having our research approved by the research monitoring body in Uganda (UNCST), as well as get permission directly from the Commissioner for Refugees (Uganda Government) himself.

On the other hand, it has in many ways been made very easy by the amazing support we have had from Uganda, specifically from Mr Mwesigwa Martin Babu, who is a member of the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU) and is also a fellow committee member of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (along with Ron).

Martin has been able to do the groundwork with us. Contacting organisations overseas via email can have varied success - especially government bodies. Sometimes even phone calls fail. This is when it so so valuable to have a contact in the destination country that personally follow-up applications, and meet people ahead of time to confirm meetings.

On that note, a big big thank you to Martin, without whom these final hours before our departure would undoubtedly be a lot more stressful!

I will try and get online as frequently as possible to post updates on Uganda.


The Authors

About the Blog

Sharing the work of researchers from the Faculty of Law on the three-year AusAID-funded project on refugees with disabilities .

Our Book

The Legal Protection of Refugees with Disabilities Our groundbreaking book, bringing together the findings from our project

Our fieldwork reports

Syrian refugees with disabilities in Jordan and Turkey Report on Syrian refugees in Jordan and Turkey, 2014, PDF version.

Syrian refugees with disabilities in Jordan and Turkey Report on Syrian refugees in Jordan and Turkey, 2014, readable DOC version.

Protection of Refugees with Disabilities: Uganda Fieldwork Report, August-September 2013 Report from Uganda fieldwork, 2013, PDF version.

Protection of Refugees with Disabilities: Uganda Fieldwork Report, August-September 2013 Report from Uganda fieldwork, 2013, readable DOC version.

Refugees with Disabilities in Pakistan: An Introductory Report Report using Pakistan PPVR data, PDF version

Refugees with Disabilities in Pakistan: An Introductory Report Report using Pakistan PPVR data, readable DOC version

Refugees and Asylum Seekers with Disabilities: A preliminary report from Malaysia and Indonesia Fieldwork report on Malaysia and Indonesia, 2012, readable DOC version

Refugees and Asylum Seekers with Disabilities: A preliminary report from Malaysia and Indonesia Fieldwork report on Malaysia and Indonesia, 2012, PDF version.

Our publications

'Up to now I am suffering': Justice, sexual violence and disability amongst refugees in Uganda, Article exploring the relationship between sexual violence, disability and forced migration, and evaluating international and domestic law

To ‘Promote, Protect and Ensure’: Overcoming Obstacles to Identifying Disability in Forced Migration Our peer-reviewed article on identifying disability in displacement

War, law and disability: ensuring equality in situations of crisis Book chapter in Valerie Karr and David Mitchell (eds) Crises, Conflict and Disability: Ensuring Equality

Where Disability and Displacement Intersect: Asylum Seekers and Refugees with Disabilities Introductory peer-reviewed article on disability and displacement

Overcoming Barriers to Education for Refugees with Disabilities Article drawing on Malaysian and Indonesian fieldwork, reviewing barriers to education and existing responses

Making Every Life Count: Ensuring Equality and Protection for Persons with Disabilities in Armed Conflicts


Identification of Refugees with Disabilities A short Prezi on the identification of disabilities in displacement

Some other useful resources

Working with persons with disabilities in forced migration Guidance booklet on key strategies to accommodate and assist persons with disabilities in situations of forced displacement.

UNHCR Executive Committee Conclusion on Refugees with Disabilities Conclusion issued by the Executive Committee of UNHCR, acknowledging the CRPD and addressing how it applies in situations of forced migration.

Resettlement Assessment Tool: Persons with disabilities Specialised assessment tool published by UNHCR in 2013.

Hidden victims of the Syrian crisis: disabled, injured, and older refugees Report of a survey of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon

Women's Refugee Commission disability-related publications Website bringing together the WRC's work on refugees with disabilities, including reports, guidance and training materials.