Friday, February 8, 2008

People Smuggler? Or Refugee Rescuer?

The case of Ali Al Jenabi has finally come to an end. Having been convicted as a people smuggler in 2004, Mr. Al Jenabi served his time in prison, and was later moved to the Villawood detention centre. From there he applied for a protection visa, on the grounds that he himself is a refugee. Despite the fact that Australian law requires a timely decision on these matters it has taken 20 months for a ruling to be delivered. In that time there have been three different immigration ministers consider the matter.

The newly elected minister, Chris Evans, has decided to deny Mr. Al Jenabi a protection visa on the grounds of his character as a result of his people smuggling conviction. Senator Evans claims that people smuggling “is a heinous crime that puts lives at risk, undermines Australia’s border security and weakens our immigration system.” It’s true that those who seek to profit from people smuggling are often low life thugs and criminals profiting from the desperation of others. But here’s where this case gets complicated.

Ali Al Jenabi claims he began people smuggling out of the desperate need to help his own family to get out of Iraq. In doing so he also helped others to escape. Yes he did take money, but according to him, only to pay the unavoidable costs of transporting people out of danger. It seems that many of the people he helped see him as an “Oskar Schindler” style character who saved lives by manipulating a corrupt system in a dangerous part of the world.

Despite this, the minister feels that it is necessary to make the point that nobody who practices people smuggling should be rewarded for their crimes. Thus, Mr. Al Jenabi has been given instead a “removal-pending” visa. However, rather than being deported any time soon, he has now been released into the community indefinitely because Iraq is officially considered to be an unsafe destination for failed asylum seekers.

As paradoxical as all this seems to be, the irony is that it is entirely consistent with the crazy circumstances that led Ali Al Jenabi to help people to escape from a regime so evil that Australia participated in the invasion of that nation to depose the regime.

No wonder it took so long to make a decision.

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