The recipe for breaking a spirit

The recipe for breaking a spirit

Confessions of a People-Smuggler

by Dawood Amiri

Scribe, $24.99 pb, 182 pp, 9781925106091

Book Cover 2 Small

The Undesirables: Inside Nauru

by Mark Isaacs

Hardie Grant Books, $29.95 pb, 351 pp, 9781742708331

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.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

Peter Mares

Peter Mares

Peter Mares is contributing editor with the online journal Inside Story, adjunct fellow at the Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University, and a moderator with the Cranlana Programme. Peter worked for twenty-five years as a broadcaster with the ABC and throughout his career he has combined journalism with public policy research, particularly on topics related to migration. He was the author of the first comprehensive analysis of Australia’s approach to refugees and asylum seekers: the award-winning book Borderline (UNSW Press, 2001 and 2002).

Published in October 2014 no. 365

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.