This is a book based upon various interviews between Robin de Crespigny and Ali Al Jenabi, a ‘people smuggler’ from Iraq via Kurdistan, Iran, Indonesia and every jail hell hole. Ali Al Jenabi is a child of Saddam’s Iraq; a country suddenly regressing from a progressive, innovative and wealthy nation with a rich cultural heritage to one under the dictatorship of a man prepared to use chemical weapons against his own people.
The voice of Ali builds, slowly, gently, by the third section, the voice is echoing in your ears. It will keep you awake at night. The brutal sensibility of his reflection on his detention in Abu Ghraib is a haunting piece of personal struggle. The question that continues to bounce around my head is simple: how can humans treat other humans so poorly?
There is a rumour that Australia didn’t respond to reports that the SIEVX was in distress because they didn’t want to receive any more asylum seekers. I wonder if the woman who was taking her son to meet his father survived, or if he weeps alone in the land of opportunity.
This account, when held with various David Marr’s articles and Dark Victory, will form part of the history written by my children. This history will condemn the politicians and society that allowed for the continued demonisation and detention of refugees arriving by boat. How can a country so rich be so poorly led? Ali accounts in detail the task of bringing refugees from Iraq across the globe and onto Australia. A painstaking journey of bravery and courage. Families taking such a trip show resilience, innovation, passion and a desire for liberty. The kind of people who will make Australia great.
I have no support from the Iraqi embassy, I am given no preparation on what to court…I don’t have a chance and Australia makes sure I don’t. They have their Thai lawyer, AFP witnesses and six others from Australian embassy to make their case.
Throughout Ali’s voice is honest, brutally so, his aggression, sometimes transcending into violence, is not hidden or air brushed. His motives are multilayered and in the final court case, the comparison to Oskar Schindler is provocative. The clarity and insight into the lengths people to go to seek freedoms we take for granted. As much as this is Ali’s story we must ask, what kind of country closes his eyes, covers it ears and pretends to be silent? This book tells us so much about Australia in the last 20th century and the early decades of the 21st century.
‘Look Ali…The government want to lay blame for boat people on smugglers like you, but you’re not working out as a good scapegoat…it is becoming clear you are also a decent, kind and compassionate human being, and its difficult to whack someone like that…’
Ali is clearly bias in his personal account. Your own political and moral views will inform your approach to the story. I am unreserved in my belief that the treatment of refugees arriving by boat in Australia has been hideous. For more than twenty years the narrow minded, politically motivated demonisation of refugees has disgusted me. How can we fear the poorest people in the world? Finally Ali is jailed in Australia for eight years, (despite not living in Australia or breaking any law in Indonesia) with a four year non-parole period. His story doesn’t end there. Even the removal of John Howard doesn’t lead to the granting of refugee status to Ali.
I am stuck by how many of the other prisoners are Aboriginal. All my jury were white but in jail at least eighty percent of inmates are black, yet I understand they make up only two and a half percent of Australia’s population.
At times it does feel like de Crespigny’s fingerprints come through; had there been substantial editing? Though Ali is obviously talented, the cinematic feel of the descriptions and the final tense moments are the work of an experienced writer. I love d every word. I leave this reflection with this little piece. In January 2008 Ali has been in detention for 19 months, Justice Lindgren hands down a condemning judgment.
He finds the former Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, committed ‘an egregious failure’ to obey Parliament’s command by leaving my case unresolved for eighteen months.
Yes, the same Kevin Andrews now a minister in an Abbott led-government. No doubt there are more stories like Ali’s out there. They should be written, published, made into films, shown around the world. Just then the society that allows such treatment of people already tortured might be shamed into changing.