Confessions of a People-Smuggler

Amiri Dawood

Confessions of a People-Smuggler
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Confessions of a People-Smuggler

Amiri Dawood

Dawood Amiri is an ethnic Hazara who, in 2010, made the fateful decision to seek asylum in Australia. He arrived in Indonesia in 2010, and after various adventures and misadventures, was captured along with over 150 other refugees when he was about to board a boat headed for Christmas Island. After a long stint in detention, he escaped and began working for people-smugglers to raise money for his own passage and to help his fellow asylum-seekers. In six months, he organised more than 400 passengers for four different boats, but he never made it to Australia.

Amiri was eventually arrested as a people-smuggler himself - after having helped gather passengers for a boat that was recklessly overloaded by his bosses and sank en route to Christmas Island, with the loss of 96 lives.

Among the dead were two of Amiri’s best friends; that day, he ‘swore at God'. He was sentenced to six years' jail in Jakarta’s Cipinang prison, while the kingpins, at the time, remained free. His story, despite appearances, is that of a man who considers himself humane and decent, who landed among thieves. It also provides surprising insights into the desperation of asylum-seekers and the economics of the highly organised people-smuggling industry, as well as the corruption that has enabled it.


I felt humbled to read Dawood Amiri’s Confessions of a People-Smuggler. He puts a human face to the people who end up in the messy middle to bottom end of the people-smuggling chain. It was less like I was reading Amiri’s story, and more like we were sitting in someone’s home, listening to him relay his life thus far. Although the language is simple, the narrative is intimate. While this book tells Amiri’s unique tale, it could also represent the experience of many people whose lives are lived in a mixture of fear, hope, duty, desperation and survival while they’re trying to get from one place of violence and persecution to a safer place, and the struggles they face in doing so.

Amiri, an ethnic Hazara, travels to Indonesia with the hopes of boarding a boat bound for Australia and seeking asylum. He has been chosen by his family to make this journey, as he is skilled and capable of earning some income. On reaching Indonesia he does odd jobs to earn the money to afford the boat fare; however, as he’s boarding the boat bound for Christmas Island, he is caught and placed in detention. While the legal asylum processing begins, time lags and little is accomplished.

Later, back outside, Amiri starts to work for the people-smugglers to earn enough for his own passage to Australia. Compounded with this is Amiri’s own experience of the slow legal process, which allow him to understand why asylum seekers might choose to take the risk of boat passage. Tragedy strikes when a boat sinks and he is the only remaining link in the operation. Amari is racked with guilt at the lives lost – which include two of his friends – and also at the prospect of facing jail when he is about to start his own family, and the story follows the legal and personal struggles Amiri faces.

What I took away most from this book is the selflessness in Amiri’s story. Regardless of how difficult or hopeless his situation has become, he thinks of his family, or other asylum seekers who are depending on him, and ultimately accepts his own fate.

Suzanne Steinbruckner works as a bookseller at Readings St Kilda.

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