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People Smuggling and State Crime

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Part of the Critical Criminological Perspectives book series (CCRP)


On 16 April 2009, an Indonesian fishing vessel carrying 47 asylum seekers exploded into flames near Ashmore reef off Australia’s north-west coast, killing five people and injuring 40 others, including two crew members.1 Code-named SIEV 36,2 the boat was one of 23 intercepted by Australian authorities between 1 July 2008 and 29 June 2009 (Phillips and Spinks, 2012) as part of an ongoing mobilisation against people-smuggling. The subsequent coronial inquiry found that the explosion occurred after one or more of the passengers, fearful of being forcibly returned to Indonesia, set fire to petrol below the deck with a view to disabling the boat.3 While no prosecutions relating directly to the deaths seem likely,4 Australia’s political leaders were quick to attribute blame. The following day, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, declared:

People smugglers are engaged in the world’s most evil trade and they should all rot in jail, because they represent the absolute scum of the earth. We see this lowest form of life in what we saw on the high seas yesterday (Griffiths, 2009, online).


  • Asylum Seeker
  • State Crime
  • Crew Member
  • Organise Crime
  • Detention Centre

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© 2013 Michael Grewcock

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Grewcock, M. (2013). People Smuggling and State Crime. In: Carrington, K., Ball, M., O’Brien, E., Tauri, J.M. (eds) Crime, Justice and Social Democracy. Critical Criminological Perspectives. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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