Justice, of a sort, for a people-smuggler

The Australian
30 December 2003

The seven-year sentence handed down in a Cairo court to people-smuggler Abu Quassey will appal many people as utterly inadequate. Quassey organised a refugee boat which sank en route from Indonesia to Australia, drowning 350 people. If convicted here, Quassey would have faced up to 20 years in prison. But the Indonesian authorities chose to deport him to his home country and we must respect the decision of the Egyptian court. The important thing is that Quassey was found guilty and the Australian Government must now do whatever it can to ensure the appeal he has launched against his sentence fails.

Quassey's imprisonment does not mean the Australian Government no longer has a case to answer over its treatment of refugees. The lies that were told during the "children overboard" affair in the lead-up to the 2001 election, when the Government alleged that asylum-seekers were throwing their children into the ocean to force the navy to pick them up, was an exercise in political opportunism. But whatever the failings of the Howard Government, it has not tricked desperate people into risking their lives on the high seas on vessels of doubtful safety to travel illegally to Australia.

Quassey is an odious opportunist, a man who trafficked in human misery and who preferred the prospect of profit to providing his customers with a seaworthy vessel capable of making the journey from Indonesia to the Australian coast. His conviction will reinforce the hard-line taken by the Australian Government in dealing with refugee boats. The Quasseys of the world are always with us, but this conviction will encourage his peers to see that the days of making easy money from desperate people willing to place their fates in criminal hands, in the hope of safe-haven in Australia, are over.

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