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The importance of incorporating religious, cultural and linguistic evidence in UK immigration procedures: an analysis of the semiotic codes of asylum seekers

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journal contribution
posted on 2024-02-16, 13:32 authored by Imranali Panjwani
Asylum seekers who claim asylum in the United Kingdom flee from a diverse range of threats of persecution, particularly in the MENA (Middle East & North African) region. These threats may comprise of war, tribal violence and trafficking to honour-killings, female genital mutilation and witchcraft. Some of these threats may be alien to Western immigration tribunals as they either do not occur in their respective countries or are not understood, particularly because of the intricate religious and cultural nature of the threat in question. For example, a single woman who has had sexual relations outside of marriage would be regarded as having insulted tribal and familial honour in some regions of MENA countries. Here, the word ‘tribe’, which in Arabic is ‘qabilah’, has a distinct historical, cultural and lexical meaning that lawyers, judges and policy-makers may not be aware of; the same may be said of ‘nikah’ (marriage) or ‘Voodoo’ (a type of witchcraft) and many other terminologies. These terminologies are intimately linked to the experiences of immigration applicants and asylum seekers who desire to express their fear of persecution to lawyers, judges and policymakers. Using two real-life case studies involving a Yemeni immigration applicant and Nigerian asylum seeker respectively and my practitioner experience as a country expert having written 140 reports, I will critically explore the value of a primary, semiotic understanding of key religious, cultural and linguistic dimensions in asylum claims (as opposed to secondary source evidence). I argue that the UK’s immigration tribunal system should place more value on how language is embodied within the MENA regions. I do not wish to just highlight this issue but semiotically analyse immigration and asylum procedure, the arguments of the Home Office and tribunals in accepting or rejecting claims and suggest substantive reform by broadening the nature of evidence. Using Peirce’s framework of semiotics, a sign (representamen) is the fundamental entry point to comprehend an object – an object being the referent of a sign. Once we understand a sign and its object, we arrive at the interpretant which is the sense or meaning derived from the object. This triad relationship of sign, object and interpretant constitutes semiois. Here, I argue that analysing the nature of a sign and what it purports to represent can provide us with a theoretical basis by which to reformulate the mechanisms which judges and lawyers use to understand religious, cultural and linguistic evidence in asylum claims. It is through signs that we can arrive at a deeper meaning and the larger picture of the intricate components of an asylum seeker’s claim thereby accessing their semiotic code.



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International Journal for the Semiotics of Law






United Kingdom

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  • Published version


  • eng

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  • School of Economics, Finance and Law Outputs