People Smugglers they are not, lawful and heroes instead

by Gerry Georgatos

The misappropriation of language and abuse of semantics in reference to ‘perceived people smugglers’ has to begin to change so we do not further erode compassion, and continue to skew the moral compass, bend and circumvent the rule of law- domestic and international.

People who are assisting people in their flight from persecution and in the right to asylum, in accordance to our laws, domestic and international, should be honoured as the heroes they are. The wait for this should not be a generation removed, as is generally the case in the unfolding of social justice and in the eliminating of racism and various abominable prejudices.

There is nothing more honourable than living the moral conviction of saving the lives of others. The 600 souls who have drowned since 2007 in their flight to our shores are the fault of the policies of the Australian government.

Winton Higgins in his book – Journey Into Darkness – describes a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Israel where a note from Australia rests. It is from the Evian Conference 1938 where 22 nations of the Western world convened to discuss the Jewish refugee ‘problem.’ Australia’s response, from T.W. White, is captured in 13 words alone on that note – “We don’t have a racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one.”

Contemporaneously, equivalent racism is mangling the Australian national consciousness. Many are arguing we don’t want to import the ‘Muslim faith’ when this should not even be a discussion point. What has this got to do with humanity? I have interviewed hundreds of Asylum Seekers and all they are seeking is a shot at life and liberty. Most of them don’t practice Islam, just like most Australians do not practice Christianity, it’s a moot point. It does not matter whether someone does practice a particular religion just as much as should not matter what the pigment of someone’s skin is. However to the biased and prejudiced it does matter.

Helping refugees is actually lawful, however magistrates are faced with mangled imposts upon their judgments generated from within the chambers of parliament, by political parties withdrawn from moral leadership and mongered by electoralism; a vicious cycle.

The tenuously political, and racist, mantra of “breaking the people smugglers’ business model” has caused unconscionable damage. I was stunned when a GetUP! Campaign against the Malaysian option quoted, “it is understandable that the Minister cannot offer a blanket exemption to any class of asylum seekers, for fear that the people smugglers will exploit it to their advantage.” Of the hundreds of Asylum Seekers I have interviewed each said to me there was no way to find safe passage from persecution and oppression and the prospect of death without the assistance of those demonised as people smugglers.

They are not people smugglers, they are heroes, whether a few make a quid out of this or not. No one is being smuggled to Australia, and rather people are being saved from the prospect of death or from being conscripted into for instance the Taliban. Australia has deported Asylum Seekers back to Afghanistan and Sri Lanka who were soon murdered.

These heroes are taking great risks and paying enormous amounts of money to officials, police and border controls, and various others, for them to turn a blind eye or to assist with the passage of desperate people, of families.

International human smuggling laws defines itself as human trafficking for prostitution and indentured labour, the forced removal of peoples across borders for “gain, slavery or exploitation.” So, why can’t our news media pick up our parliamentarians on this?
I do not question whether a very few have supposedly profiteered in assisting Asylum Seekers however is this a crime? Migration agents get paid for their services. Ali Jenabi did not profiteer.

If we want to buy into the misappropriated terminology and the myth of a business model then let us consider the words of the Director of Refugee and Asylum Law at the University of Michigan, James Hathaway, “Canada and other developed countries created the market on which smugglers depend by erecting migration walls around their territories. The more difficult it is to get across a border to safety on one’s own, the more sensible it is to hire a smuggler to navigate the barriers to entry. Smugglers are thus the critical bridge to get at-risk people to safety. Which one of us, if confronted with a desperate need to flee but facing seemingly impossible barriers, would not seek out a smuggler to assist us?”

However we have to start having a good look at ourselves and what we have bought into – racism of course – when we label people as smugglers for merely saving lives, of families and children we have a real problem of identity and of morality.

Many perceived people smugglers were asylum seekers and refugees and they understand the predicament of their peoples, those persecuted and displaced. Iraqi Ali Jenabi’s brother was killed by Saddam Hussein’s forces. He arrived in Indonesia penniless and to earn passage for his family to Australia, and which included his mother, sisters, brothers and an uncle he worked for perceived people smugglers. His family finally arrived in 3 separate boats.

Ali Jenabi’s humanity continued and he has since helped many others seek passage, including those with no money. He is a hero to the Iraqi communities of Australia however a perceived people smuggler to Prime Minister Julia Gillard. He could face ten years in prison.

Paragraphs 232 and 233 of the Migration Act support the right to Asylum and for Asylum Seekers to be assisted. A few years ago 27 legal experts explained to a Senate Estimates Inquiry that indeed there is nothing unlawful in assisting people with safe passage to foreign shores.

By 1938, about 150,000 German Jews, one in four, had already fled Germany. After Germany annexed Austria in March 1938, an additional 185,000 Jews were brought under Nazi rule. Many Jews were unable to find countries willing to take them in.

Many German and Austrian Jews tried to go to the United States however they could not obtain the visas – there were no “queues”. Though news of the violent pogroms of November 1938 was widely reported, Americans remained reluctant to welcome Jewish refugees. In the midst of the Great Depression, many Americans believed that refugees would compete with them for jobs and overburden social programs to assist the needy.

In 1924 the US Congress had set up immigration quotas limiting the number of immigrants and discriminated against groups considered racially and ethnically undesirable. These quotas remained in place even after President Franklin D. Roosevelt, responding to mounting political pressure, called for an international conference to address the refugee problem – the Evian Conference, 1938.

Gerry Georgatos
0430 657 309, WA
PhD researcher Australian Custodial Systems, Masters Social Justice Advocacy, Masters Human Rights Education, Refugee Advocate

2 thoughts on “People Smugglers they are not, lawful and heroes instead

  1. Protest at Brisbane's detention centre: 2pm Saturday 21st July says:

    There are over 4500 asylum seekers currently languishing in detention in Australia, with a federal Labor government that is thoroughly committed to mandatory detention; and a federal opposition that says that Labor’s hard line is “too soft”, and they will introduce even more cruel policies. Come to Brisbane’s very own detention centre, the BITA, “Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation” at Pinkenba and let everyone know that these policies are unacceptable. Demand freedom and justice for refugees!

    When: 2pm, Saturday 21st July.
    Where: 100 Sugarmill Rd, Pinkenba.




    Getting there: Trains arrive at Doomben station at 12.46pm and 1.46pm.

    Carlifts will be organised from there to the rally site at Pinkenba. Could all those with transport who are willing to give people a lift, be at Doomben station at those times?

    If you’re running late or stranded, ring Tim on 0411 829 319.

  2. RAC organising meeting says:

    Organising meeting
    Note: different time and place from usual

    RAC has decided to hold meetings on weekends every so often, to enable those who can’t come on weekday evenings to get involved. This is our first attempt. How often we do this will depend on the response.

    Where: Freedom House, 69 Thomas St, West End.
    When: 2 pm, Saturday 4th August.

    Getting there: Street parking. West End (199) bus from city.

    Agenda: The main agenda item will be planning the next campaign event, a rally on the anniversary of the Tampa. We will also discuss other events further in the future. There will also be a discussion about an important current affairs issue for the refugee campaign, led by a RAC member.

    All refugee supporters are welcome, whether seasoned activists or not.

    Further info: Paul, ph. 3392 3843,

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