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People smugglers

By Tracie Aylmer

Rightly or wrongly, people smugglers have had a really bad rap for several years now with the Australian government and the public. They have been the excuse of governments past and present to persecute refugees and asylum seekers, to the extent that psychological damage has been done to the victim.

People love using the excuse of people smugglers, but no one has wondered why they have been used as the excuse.

What people don’t quite understand is that, even though people smugglers have been known to rip refugees and asylum seekers off, what they also do is get refugees out of dangerous situations.

I remember hearing a story from an asylum seeker who had so many problems in her home country that she would have been ‘honour killed’ if she hadn’t quickly flled. Her story wasn’t a nice one. Another story is of a man who handed out political pamphlets to people on the street during elections. The police in this country are apt to torture those giving political statements to the public that are adverse to the government, which expected to win a clear majority.

People smugglers got these people out of situations so dangerous that many in Australia couldn’t possibly consider just how dangerous it was. While the charges can be very high, the situations are higher.

When Peter Dutton targets people smugglers and claims that the Australian government has destroyed their business model, he couldn’t be more wrong. Who is the Australian government when someone is doing localised business in another country?

By trying to dictates methods of business in another country, Australia is breaching the sovereignty of the other country, as well as the business practices and laws of the other country. Who is Australia to dictate this?

People smuggling hasn’t stopped, nor will it. There’s high demand in other countries for people smuggling due to many complex practices going on in the other countries.

It doesn’t even make sense to blame the victim, or the fact that the victim gets on a boat, or was helped by people smugglers in order to get on a boat and had enough funds to pay for it. When a person flees persecution, they don’t care about the money in their bank account. A life is not about worth. It’s more precious to the person to remain alive than it is to think about their bank account.

I don’t know anyone who could dodge a bomb when it comes, other than to flee from it. Any reasonable, normal person who flees would use a people smuggler to do so if there was no other choice. They would pay every cent to remain alive. It’s reasonable and logical to do so.

By blaming the business practices of people smugglers means that the actual people the Australian government wants to blame are the asylum seekers and refugees.

By blaming people smugglers in public, the Australian government believes they hold more sway over other countries than they actually do. They are telling the Australian people that they have more influence over another country’s sovereignty than the other country does.

And they are destroying their own reputation in the process.



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  1. Phil

    Agreed. The Australian government has for too long deceitfully and corruptly manipulated the public narrative. The criminal and cruel torture of refugees imprisoned illegally in Australian detention camps is reported globally so it is inevitable that there will be repercussion that will not serve Australia’s national interests.

    This is the first article I have read that challenges government narrative on people smugglers. Australia has acquired a very poor reputation as a global citizen across many areas of international importance and it saddens me that our children and grand children will carry this burden for decades to come – a burden not of their making.

    Damn this putrid government.

  2. helvityni

    Shame on you, Australia.

  3. guest

    People smugglers were not illegal in Indonesia at the beginning. Are they illegal now in Indonesia? Nor is Indonesia signatory to the Refugee Convention.

    People smugglers do not behave morally when they take the money and put the refugees onto leaky boats. But they do not get their boats back, especially when they are burnt.

    Howard set the tone for all this after 9/11. “We will decide who comes to our country and the means by which they come.” And the last two Coalition PMs have tried to sell this idea to the rest of the world. They clearly have no idea what it means to have to flee a country.

    What refugees do not expect is the use of navy boats to engage in piracy on the high seas, seizing boats and dispatching people in small rescue craft back to Indonesia.

    Even worse is to use people as human shields to dissuade people from sailing to Oz; fly in, yes – but no boats (IMAs, as Jim Molan, retired, calls them. Illegal Marine Arrivals. Wonderfully impersonal and so military). IMHO they are Immoral Military Actions. Especially Manus, which PNG has declared to be illegal and unconstitutional.

    When Oz claims to be wonderfully compassionate about refugees when it points to a few thousand intake per year and then points to Manus and Nauru and claims it has to be tough to be kind, I see a huge discrepancy and contradiction – a failure in policy – that so many people are left in cruel limbo for nothing more than seeking refuge.

  4. Terry2

    It’s not only people smugglers that the coalition blame , it’s just about anybody other than themselves : remember Turnbull recently in New York about indefinite detention on Nauru and Manus:

    “And you ask about the people on Manus Island and Nauru? Kevin Rudd put them there, the Labor Party put them there. We have been dealing with Labor’s legacy, their legacy of shame.

    While they can continue to blame Labor, people smugglers, and just about anybody except themselves, there is very little hope for the poor souls in indefinite detention.

  5. guest

    What I remember was Howard’s “Pacific Solution” being such a ‘wonderful’ idea. But in the end there was huge controversy because so many of the detainees ended up in Oz or NZ, one even in Sweden.

    So Rudd said at the end of his time, why not say the refugees will never get to Oz. And Abbott agreed. He loved the idea.

    Gillard had sought a regional off-shore solution, but was denied that for various reasons. Malaysia, for example. But Abbott’s Cambodia received the tick of approval.

    Meanwhile, Manus and Nauru continue. Whatever criticism is aimed at the Coalition, they claim navy action one end and indefinite detention the other is essential to ‘stop the boats’.

    The first excuse about the island gulags is that whatever happens there is not under their jurisdiction.Then they say these people in indefinite detention (including 30 000 on TPVs) are free to stay on the islands, stay in PNG, leave for other places or go back to where they came from. Hobson’s choice.

    What I cannot understand is why Oz cannot make arrangements to help the UN in Indonesia. (The UN is not popular with some Coalition people because they think the UN is intent on World domination.) Refugees in camps in Indonesia have been waiting a long time. The excuse against helping in Indonesia is that it would open up a flood of “illegals’. As well, some Indonesian officials and police have allegedly colluded with ‘people smugglers’.

    So Oz takes in so many thousands by plane – but by boat? Too hard. Really?

  6. Steve Laing - makeourvoiceheard.com

    Has anyone noticed that nobody makes any mention of the fact that the final act of Howard’s offshore solution was to bring the refugees to Australia? I suspect because the media allowed him to do so without any fanfare. Why that didn’t encourage people smugglers back then, but would do now, no journalists seems able to ask.

    The reality is that boat people coming to Australia COULD be a fairly minor issue IF the Liberals and the media hadn’t blown it up out of all proportion as a vote winner for the Libs. As one of the panelists said on QandA, Australia spend more on Manus and Nauru that the UN spend on refugees WORLDWIDE! It is a massively expensive “solution” that actually hasn’t solved anything, just tried to sweep it under the carpet. The Coalition have no end game. They don’t have a solution. The whole exercise (just like the submarine fiasco) is just an exercise in buying votes from the xenophobic portion of the electorate…

  7. Niall McLaren

    By focusing attention on the dreadful evil people smugglers, Australian governments have successfully shifted public attention away from our contribution to the reasons there are refugees in the first place. No wars = no refugees = no people smugglers. Fairly elementary.

  8. david1

    Successive Governments and a gullible, selfish, ignorant public don’t give a damn, as long as they don’t have to be involved.

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