Confessions of a People-Smuggler
Kevin Rudd dubbed people like Dawood Amiri “the absolute scum of the earth”. Now Amiri puts his side of the story. It’s far different from the one our politicians would have us believe.
Amiri grew up in Quetta, where Sunni extremists are intent on finishing what the Taliban started in his native Afghanistan: exterminating his ethnic group of Hazara, who are Shiite and who speak Farsi (Persian). He became an accountant in Karachi and Tehran for the hawaladars, the traditional remitters of the region, but in 2010 things got so bad in Quetta he set off for Australia so his family could follow.
He got as far as Jakarta with just $US150, far short of the $4000 to get on a boat to Christmas Island. Fluent in Farsi, Urdu and English (and later Indonesian) Amiri became a trusted aide to a people-smuggler. By 2012, he had married an Indonesian girl and she was expecting a baby. He abandoned his own plans to reach Australia. In June that year, his boss “Billu” tried to break the record for the biggest boatload, with 204 passengers. Amiri organised the 52 Hazara among them, and anxiously tracked the boat by satellite phone. Two days out the boat hit rough weather and called for rescue. The third day it capsized, before help arrived, and 96 drowned. A shaken Amiri dealt with desperate relatives, and got money returned to the families of the 29 Hazara who died: “All I had wanted to do was to help those people get safely to Australia − not for them to be killed when their boat sank in the middle of the ocean.”
Indonesian and Australian police arrived at Amiri’s home soon after, seizing his sat-phones, cell phones and computer as evidence. He got a seven-year sentence (with time cut for testifying against Billu). The book’s second half is about life in an Indonesian jail, where drug lords, corrupt politicians and fraudsters operate from air-conditioned rooms, and the small-fry sleep with cockroaches on concrete floors, supplied with ganja and methamphetamines daily. From jail, Amiri himself got one more boatload to Christmas Island, but now he and his Indonesian family survive on help from grateful customers who made it. What a pity such a decent and talented person who tried to help the desperate will probably never get to Australia himself. JF
Scribe, 192pp, $24.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 20, 2014 as "Dawood Amiri, Confessions of a People-Smuggler ". Subscribe here.