The People Smuggler was another of my holiday reads and one that was compelling and very interesting. It tells the story of Ali Al Jenabi, a young Iraqi man who found himself on the wrong side of just about everything under Sadam Hussein’s brutal reign. This was at least partly due to Ali’s father open disdain for the ruling party. Ali, his father and his brother all find themselves as prisoners (without charge or trial) in the notorious Abu Grabe prison, however remarkably Ali is eventually released. At once he begins searching for ways to seek revenge on Sadam and his henchmen.
In doing so he puts not only his own life in danger but that of his family and realising that nothing he does will ever make any difference he shifts his attention to getting his family safely out of Iraq. They initially find safe haven in Iran, but the situation there soon becomes unstable and the search for a new home begins once more. Ali sets out alone to make it to Indonesia with the aim of heading by boat to Australia where his married sister is living. Despite paying a people smuggler to organise this journey for him Ali finds himself duped and stranded in Indonesia. And after several more unsuccessful attempts at the hands of uncaring, greedy smugglers Ali decides to do the job himself and to do it for others as well. So Ali finds himself a people smuggler, but one with a difference. He does it for minimum cost, often allowing families to go for free on the promise of payment later (which never comes), he ensures the boats are safe and that life jackets and other safety equipment is supplied.
He eventually managers to get the rest of his family from Iran to Indonesia and then safely on to Australia. But for himself the passage to asylum in Australia is fraught.
The books is written by a film maker who came to know Ali and his fascinating story. The writing isn’t brilliant and reminds me of a series of ‘events’ happening in sequence as you find in a film (….and then this happened, and then this happened) but the story is quite thrilling and suspenseful and what Ali goes through is incredible. It gives a real insight into the life of someone seeking asylum (whom we are so often told to be evil, criminal and just plan bad for this country), the desperation and the things that drive them forward. It makes you think how little our own policies effect the decision to jump on that boat and how we really are looking at this whole situation from completely the wrong perspective. In all it is well worth the read (thanks for the recommendation, it was from someone commenting on this blog, but I’ve forgotten who now).