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Migrant Journeys

Migrant Journeys: New Zealand Taxi Drivers tell their Stories

Reviewer: Elizabeth Mackie —

Edited by Adrienne Jansen and Liz Grant. Published by Bridget Williams Books. Reviewed by Elizabeth Mackie 

When Pope Francis recently visited Lesbos to meet with Syrian refugees attempting to escape into Europe, he reminded the world that: “Migrants, rather than simply being a statistic, are first of all people, who have faces, names and individual stories.” Adrienne Jansen and Liz Grant provide names, faces and stories which bring statistics into life through Migrant Journeys, a series of 14 interviews with overseas-born taxi drivers working in New Zealand cities. Not all are refugees. Some are people who have chosen to migrate here in the hope of a better life. All of them have settled here, contributing to the increasing diversity we experience in the population of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Through compelling human stories we meet people from 10 different countries, including Somalia, Serbia, Iraq, Samoa and others. The stories are very simply recorded, a fascinating and sometimes extremely sad record of people who have suffered immeasurably in their own countries and have bravely made the decision to flee, sometimes arriving in this country after long periods in refugee camps in an intermediate country.

There are some common themes which recur in almost every story. All are seeking a safer, better life for their families and greater educational opportunities for their children. Many are assisting extended family, either here or in their homeland. They are all willing to work — at anything. Many are highly qualified and feel frustrated that their qualifications are not recognised here. Taxi driving has provided a life-line in securing the income they need to live. Many spoke of the flexibility and freedom this industry allows them to care for their families and to contribute impressively to their own communities.

They value New Zealand citizenship and express gratitude for the goodness of New Zealanders. “I love Kiwis, I love you guys. New Zealand gives me everything, except for the weather.”

The writing is direct and lucid, leaving the taxi drivers to tell their stories in their own words. There are some strong portrait photographs, although it would have been wonderful to have had more, a very good introduction and a helpful glossary of acronyms used.

The reader will be informed, moved and challenged. To quote one Somalian refugee: 

“What doesn’t seem to happen is educating the whole community about the benefits that migrants bring. There is sometimes a perception that they are more like a cost burden, which can be the trigger for racism.”
Published in Tui Motu InterIslands magazine. Issue 206, July 2016.