The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny

First published 2012 by Penguin Group (Australia)

the people smuggler

This was one of those books that made my own troubles pale into insignificance.

I like the fact that Robin de Crespigny has given the story to this man, Ali Al Jenabi – it does not make up for all those things that have been taken from him, but it’s something. She lets him tell the tale as if it were he doing the writing, and it makes for a very strong narrative that grabs you immediately. I am also amazed at the memory this man has, the detail of every little thing that went wrong all stored away without the use of a journal. On the other hand it is probably the use of journals and diaries that makes our memories lazier.

I started reading it before Christmas, and survived the very harrowing first section which took him from childhood through to being released from Abu Ghraib prison.

The next section, in which Ali Al Jenabi tries to get himself and his family out of Iraq, reads like a thriller, and will be what puts bums on seats, particularly male ones, once Ms de Crespigny turns it into a film. But it will be a few years before this happens. This part of the book had me turning page after page waiting for a lull so I could put it down and go to sleep, but none came.

In the meantime his sister Afrah marries an Iraqi with Australian citizenship and emigrates there, all quite legally and with a minimum of fuss. That is when he decides they should all head here.

So he comes via Indonesia where he takes up people smuggling after being ripped off by a shonky people smuggler, but he will do everything honestly. But for a while not one single thing goes right for him, and it made the mishaps of Bridget Jones seem quite modest. I was reading the latest Bridget Jones around then too and wondered if a little summary at the start of each chapter would help a little. Something like number of border crossings 4, number of arrests 6, number of people attempted to smuggle 69, number of people successfully smuggled 0.

This section had also me thinking about what might be going on in the background politically in the writing of this book. After all, so much goes wrong that the book is a most effective cautionary tale against the idea of people smuggling, that perhaps some money had been paid to see that the number of mishaps had been exaggerated in order to Stop The Boats. That thought was later thrown out after seeing how our government continues to treat the man.

Around about this time, my mother showed me the following cartoon which had been printed on Christmas Eve. As am aside I am wondering why all the good cartoons have “Valdman is on leave” beneath them. But this one seemed less amusing by the time I got to the end of the book.


I put the book down for a few weeks and picked it up again later in January. I discovered that things did get better for a little while; he marries and gets most of his family safely to Australia. And then he is arrested in Thailand and extradited here. I managed to resist the urge to jump forward, and to tell you the truth the reason was that I was assuming that all would be resolved by the end of the book, which I would get to in my own good time.

So it was quite a shock to be denied that expected hopeful ending.

The next morning I woke fuming at 3:30am and couldn’t get back to sleep, because even now in early 2014, Ali Al Jenabi is still waiting to be granted a permanent visa. The family members and all the others he risked his life for to bring here have been able to get on with their new lives while he lives in limbo, the possibility of deportation still hanging over his head.

Now, up until then I’d had the odd moment of being ashamed to be Australian as I learnt what these people had been fleeing from, so this ending grieved me greatly. Will someone please give this guy a permanent visa? But if the publishing of this book cannot turn the hard hearts of our government, I don’t know what will. He did not come here illegally himself, and as he says, “the whole thing has cost the taxpayer millions, just to punish me for something I did in someone else’s country, where it wasn’t even a crime.” He should be allowed to become a taxpayer also. Surely the government should be able to catch a new people smuggler to make an example of. This one has suffered enough.

Recent Liberal Party propaganda tells me that “Tragically, since Kevin Rudd changed the rules in 2008, more than 1100 have perished at sea.” and also “It provides no pleasure to see Australia having to resort to a “no exemptions policy” and I understand why many are concerned for the welfare of individuals.” One might have thought that the poor fellow might have had a chance of getting one under the Labour government we had, but one would turn out to be very naive.

So anyway, after getting an update on Ali Al Jenabi’s current situation I emailed the Immigration Minister also. Details are on the people smuggler website.


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