The recipe for breaking a spirit

After an explosion that killed five asylum seekers and injured dozens more on a boat moored at Ashmore Reef in 2009, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described people smugglers as ‘the absolute scum of the earth’ and ‘the vilest form of human life’. Further tragedies at sea during the ‘fifth wave’ of boat arrivals to Australia provoked similar outbursts from politicians across the political spectrum.

Unfortunately, casting the world in black-and-white terms does not resolve complex problems. If it were merely a matter of separating the good guys from the bad guys – the ‘evil’ smugglers from their ‘helpless’ victims – then perhaps there would be more progress towards developing an ethical and effective response to boat arrivals. As these two books show, however, the devil is always in the detail with asylum policy.

‘Unfortunately, casting the world in black-and-white terms does not resolve complex problems’

In early 2013, Dawood Amiri made headlines when a Jakarta court sentenced him to six years’ jail and a fine of seventy-five million rupiah ($75,000) for helping to organise passengers for a boat to Australia. The overloaded vessel sank north of Christmas Island on 21 June 2012 and ninety-six of the 207 people on board drowned, including two of Amiri’s close friends. Amiri’s role had been to recruit passengers for the voyage. For this he received a commission of a few hundred dollars per head, a not insubstantial fee, but a relatively small cut of the average travel price of $6,000.

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Published in October 2014 no. 365

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