A new program will provide fully-funded driving lessons, driving tests and a driver’s licence to local refugees and asylum seekers adjusting to their new life in the Hunter.

Director of CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning Gary Christensen, Councillor Peta Winney-Baartz, CatholicCare Refugee Hub Driving Program participants Madina and Edeni, NRMA driving instructor Jackie Chestney and Team Leader – Refugee Hub CathlicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning Mirja Colding-Moran

With the help of City of Newcastle, CatholicCare Hunter-Manning’s Refugee Hub Driving Program will break down barriers faced by newly arrived refugees and start them on their pathway towards education, employment and empowerment.

CatholicCare’s Refugee Hub supports people from refugee, asylum-seeker and vulnerable migrant backgrounds to settle into life in Australia.

The program will support 20 refugees through funded driving lessons, a NSW Driving Test and NSW Driver’s Licence.  

Director of CatholicCare Social Services, Gary Christensen, said the driving program opened up future employment, study and community service opportunities for the refugees. 

“We know that transport is essential for accessibility, but often many refugees, asylum seekers and recent arrivals find it difficult to get a driver’s licence and car when in Australia for a number of reasons,” Christensen said.  

He said the barriers faced by refugees included language and comprehension issues and financial difficulties associated with costs and access to affordable training.

“We’re extremely grateful to have backing from City of Newcastle … the grant funding will provide no-cost certified driving lessons with a qualified trainer, driver knowledge, hazard perception tests, a driving test and ultimately a P1 driver’s licence,” Christensen said.

In 2021, 17 new families were referred to CatholicCare’s Refugee Hub every month, taking advantage of programs including English language support, primary and secondary school tutoring and beach and bike safety workshops.

Driving program participant, Madina, who moved to Newcastle in 2017 from Afghanistan, said she was happy to participate in a program that would help her create a pathway towards a fulfilling future.  

“I appreciate the chance to participate in this program and ultimately gain my driver’s licence,” Madina said.

“I want to access study and future work in the army or police force.” 

Ward 3 councillor, Peta Winney-Baartz, said the initiative was a worthy cause.

“City of Newcastle wants to ensure that all members of our community can access the services they require, to seek and maintain employment, explore study options and connect with their local community, regardless of their background and language,” Cr Winney-Baartz said. 

“That’s why we’re pleased to support CatholicCare’s Refugee Hub Driving Program, which will ensure that refugees can get the driving experience they require to obtain a licence.”   

The program is a recipient of City of Newcastle’s Community and Economic Resilience Package, which provides funding to support vulnerable communities through the ongoing impacts of COVID-19.

Maia O’Connor