Book Review: Patrick Radden Keefe ~ The Snakehead (2009)

Priti Patel1 and her advisors should read this book. The complexities of an international people smuggling gang are outlined in brilliant readable prose. Numerous Chinese names are scattered across the page but the central theme isn’t buried in detail. And that theme is that America and the industrial West are magnets for ambitious poverty-stricken Third World economic-migrants.

Priti Patel is quite right, people smuggling trade is hideous. The aspirations of economic migrants are ruthlessly exploited with many deaths en route. Death is a cost that economic migrants are willing to accept in the fulfilment of their dream. Once it’s understood death is an acceptable ‘cost’, policies have shift to meet that reality. Rwanda2 isn’t a deterrent to people who’ve factored in the possibility of death.

People smuggling accelerates the corruption of officials. The vast sums of money, which are involved, drive people smuggling entrepreneurs to audacious techniques.3 Treating immigrants as cargo meant containers were utilised to by-pass frontier checks whereas the rich simply buy nationality entering the legitimate world.4

Keefe’s book is a gangster thriller; a sober analysis of immigration and the USA; an inspiring story of economic migration; and a story of a clash of cultures. Although it’s set in the USA the exact same principles are at work in the UK.

This book is brilliant. Unfortunately, it isn’t on Kindle and the paperback is quite pricy. Nonetheless it’s worth chasing up.


1 Priti Patel is Britain’s immigration minister

2 Why are migrants being sent to Rwanda and how will it work? | World News | Sky News

3 Essex lorry deaths: Men jailed for killing 39 migrants in trailer – BBC News

4 Countries where you can buy citizenship | World Economic Forum (

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