Review Blog

Feb 21 2013

The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny

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Penguin, 2012. ISBN 9780670076550.
Recommended for senior readers. At the time of writing, Ali Al Jenabi is living in Sydney on a Removal Pending Bridging Visa, which allows him to live here until Iraq is deemed safe enough for his return. The People smuggler is the story of his life up to this point. He grew up in Iraq under Saddam Hussein; his father was arrested and tortured in front of him as an Islamist; he and three of his brothers were also tortured and spent years in gaol. In 2012 one brother was still imprisoned despite regime change in Iraq. Ali became responsible for his family and earned money in a variety of ways, including as a tailor. For a short time he was supported by a dissident group in the Kurdish area of Iraq. He eventually escaped into Iran and Turkey, and then Indonesia after hearing about asylum in Australia. He found the situation for refugees to be unorganised, and United Nations support to be non-existent. To earn money to help his family escape he organised boats to carry groups of people to Ashmore Reef. In return they paid him what they could and he used that money to buy boats, pay for accommodation and bribe swathes of officials, including immigration and police. He was a people smuggler. Betrayed many times he was eventually arrested and tried in Darwin. He served a gaol term and then was put in detention as an asylum seeker. In his sentencing comments the judge at his trial compared him with Oskar Schindler, the German manufacturer who saved some Jews from the Holocaust, in that he acted for his family and did not seek to make large sums of money. Some may disagree with this. However, this is a story of almost unbearable suffering, betrayal and determination. The use of the first person voice and the present tense can be annoying, but ultimately the reader is left feeling grateful that we live here but baffled and angry about our attitudes to asylum seekers.
Jenny Hamilton

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