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Smuggled – an illegal history of journeys to Australia

Smuggled – an illegal history of journeys to Australia
Ruth Balint and Julie Kalman
New South $34.99

Australia’s Immigration Minister recently warned that one false move could put our nation under siege from the shadowy people smugglers who are poised and ready to strike. If we allow the “Biloela four”, the Tamil family who remain in immigration limbo, to settle here, warned Alex Hawke, this would “absolutely” restart the boats.

“The people smugglers are there, they watch developments closely, they take account of any decisions we make,” he said. “The trade in human misery means lost life … and a loss of social cohesion.”

Yes, the people smugglers, those opportunistic merchants of misery, will quickly fill their boats if these four people get to stay in Australia. It is people smugglers’ marketing techniques, not persecution, terror and genocide back home, that are to blame for desperate asylum seekers taking to the seas.

As the authors of Smuggled put it, “…the evil people smuggler has become the bogeyman of the Western world, rivalled only by terrorists and paedophiles, and demonizing people smugglers has become something of a sport among politicians.”

Authors Ruth Balint and Julie Kalman are associate professors, at the University of New South Wales and Monash University respectively. They are also both the children of European refugees and have taught and researched extensively on migration issues.

Sadly, the wrong people will probably read Smuggled – an illegal history of journeys to Australia, those who suspect the issue isn’t as simple as what is typically presented by our leaders. This book relates dozens of accounts of people who have managed to make a new life for themselves after fleeing persecution – thanks to people smugglers. Their stories make clear that paying someone to help you flee a regime intent on killing you does nothing to diminish the strength of your claim for refuge.

Forged birth certificates, bribed border officials, children hidden under bags of flour – and many more illegal acts – allowed thousands of Jews to escape Nazi Germany’s death camps. (Several of the Jewish refugees interviewed for this book stressed that anyone trying to help Jews escape would, if caught, be shot along with the Jews.)

The late Les Murray (the soccer commentator, not the poet), owed his life to a people smuggler. As an 11 year old named Laszlo Urge, Murray fled Hungary in 1957. In 2011, he returned, in the hope of saying thank you to Gyula/Louis, who had led him and his brother across the Iron Curtain. (Gyula had died, but Murray managed to pay his respects to his son and grandson) More recently, refugees from Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Burma escaped persecution, torture and likely death through the intervention of people smugglers.

Yes, sometimes smugglers lie to, cheat, exploit and endanger desperate people. And yes, they do make money from those who have few choices. But as the stories in this book testify, people smugglers also save lives, and sometimes risk their own in the process.


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