The people smuggler: Criminal or saviour?

AWARD-WINNING: Writer Robin de Crespigny, author of The People Smuggler (inset below), will appear at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival.
AWARD-WINNING: Writer Robin de Crespigny, author of The People Smuggler (inset below), will appear at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival. Marnie Johnston

AN ALTERNATIVE view and a human face of an issue Australia is glued to right now: that's how Robin de Crespigny would describe her book that has interested many, The People Smuggler.

The book tells the true story of Ali Al Jenabi, the man who smuggled his family and over 500 other Iraqi people out of Saddam Hussein's reach and to Australia, becoming known as the Oskar Schindler of Asia.

Writers festival highlights

Ali Al Jenabi was imprisoned for four years in Darwin and on his release was immediately taken to Villawood Detention Centre, where all his requests for asylum had been denied.

The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny. Photo Contributed
The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny. Photo Contributed Contributed

Entranced by the story of Ali, for three years Ms de Crespigney met with him, taking in his story and documenting it; visiting the jails he'd been sent to; meeting with his legal team; and reading thousands of papers of trial notes.

The end result is The People Smuggler: an award-winning book that has been the highest selling Australian book in the Sydney Writers' Festival last year and taken Australia by storm - its popularity possibly due to current relativity with the asylum seekers debate raging, Ms de Crespigney said.

"It's such a topical issue: frankly it's probably the most significant political electoral issue at the moment," she said.

She said while working on the book she began to be "deeply aware and ashamed" of the politics and policies of 'boat people' in Australia, and projection of them to the Australian people.

Ms de Crespigny said The People Smuggler offers an alternative perspective to the one the Australian people are given: a human face as opposed to the ill-informed language of "illegals" and "queue-jumpers".

"We only see these people when they arrive here on boats - often when they've been on the run for years - so they look terrible; they're called illegals by our politicians, which they are not - they have a right under the United Nations Convention, which we are a signatory to - but then they are thrown into detention behind razor wire," Ms de Crespigny said.

Byron Bay Writers' Festival Saturday highlights

Labouring the Point: tales from the political trenches - Maxine McKew in conversation with Kerry O'Brien

Thea Astley Lecture - Robert Drewe

Pitch Perfect - Hopeful authors pitch to panel of publishers

This is how - MJ Hyland in conversation with Chris Hanley

Chick lit, mass market: Am I literary enough for you? - Various authors.

Click here for the full program

Topics:  asylum seekers byron bay writers' festival people smuggling

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