Wednesday, July 25, 2012

ali al jenabi

I’ve just recently finished reading The People Smuggler – the true story of Ali Al Jenabi, the ‘Oskar Schindler of Asia, by Robin de Cespigny.

The Penguin blurb says

When Ali Al Jenabi flees Saddam Hussein's torture chambers, he is forced to leave his family behind in Iraq. What follows is an incredible international odyssey through the shadow world of fake passports, crowded camps and illegal border crossings, living every day with excruciating uncertainty about what the next will bring.
Through betrayal, triumph, misfortune – even romance and heartbreak – Ali is sustained by his fierce love of freedom and family. Continually pushed to the limits of his endurance, eventually he must confront what he has been forced to become.
With enormous power and insight, The People Smuggler tells a story of daily heroism, bringing to life the forces that drive so many people to put their lives in unscrupulous hands. It is an utterly gripping portrait of a man cut loose from the protections of civilisation, attempting to retain his dignity and humanity while taking whatever path he can out of an impossible position.

At the time the book was released earlier this year, the remaining members of Ali’s family have all been granted Australian citizenship while Ali himself remains in limbo, told repeatedly that he cannot have a permanent protection visa. Despite the best efforts of every well meaning man and his dog, at some point in the future he will be returned to Iraq.

So what did I learn/conclude from this book?

Yep. The coalition of cowards have, yet again, intervened in the internal affairs of another country [which happens to have oil] and then abandoned the locals to their fate when it all got too hard. No surprise there.

If, as the book claims, this is all true, then Ali and a lot of Iraqis have been treated abominably not just by Saddam Hussein but by a lot of western countries as well. Of course he needed to leave and of course he is a refugee. He and his family went to hell and back several times to arrive here by boat.

In order to pull off the last miracle leg of the journey, Ali organised a number of boats before he could afford to get onto one himself with the last of his family. Being a people smuggler was the business that funded the journey from Indonesia to Oz.

Ali points the finger at another smuggler – a greedy and morally bankrupt man – responsible for the Dec 2010 disaster at Christmas Island. Ali says this man was granted a visa.

Here are two quotes I’ve lifted from the book [and its context]:

From p 312
“This is the first time I have heard of queue-jumping. I try to imagine this queue. What do they think? That when the secret police are shooting at you, you run down the street yelling, ‘Where’s the queue? Where’s the queue?’

Even if there was a queue to join, there is no UN office in Iraq. The nearest is in Pakistan, two countries away.

Anyway the belief that there are orderly queues where asylum seekers line up and wait their turn is extraordinary. Millions of people drift into shambolic UN camps all over the world, and only about two percent are ever settled. For some it takes a few years, for others decades, with many eventually giving up on the UN and finding a smuggler to take them on a boat.”

The second quote is from page 297:

“When I call my mother I try not to tell her how serious my situation is. She and my sisters and brothers have now all been found to be legitimate refugees and are living in Sydney with permanent residency. If the UN had granted us this recognition when we applied in Iran, we would all be happily together and rebuilding our lives by now.”

There is a quote on the front cover from Thomas Keneally – quite necessary, one would think, given the association in the subtitle with Oskar Schindler.

I find the neutrality of Thomas’ quote interesting:

“An engrossing account of a figure seen by some as saviour and others as criminal. A significant book.”


  1. It sounds a good read but a sad one too.

    1. It was very revealing without being personal enough to make me stop reading it. I'm not 100% sure I'm upset about this particular case, but the whole business certainly leaves me feeling rather grubby.