Refugee learner drivers take the wheel in Western Sydney

17 July 2017
Refugee learner driver ceremony

The NRMA and Minister for Multiculturalism, Mr Ray Williams, have honoured learner-drivers from war-torn countries at a DriveTime graduation ceremony in Western Sydney to celebrate them gaining the skills and confidence they need to drive safely on Australian roads.

Last November the NRMA entered into a partnership with Gymea Community Aid and Information Service to launch DriveTime in Western Sydney and the Illawarra, a six month pilot driver licensing program for refugees settling in Australia from Syria, Iran and Iraq.

As part of the DriveTime program, which was co-funded by IAG, the NRMA has assisted over 100 refugees with Thrifty vehicles, NRMA driver training lessons, training for volunteers, Keys2Drive lessons for under 25s and car maintenance lessons. 

To date 20 participants have obtained P1 licences - five of whom have since gained employment - and 43 participants have obtained learner licences across both Fairfield and Wollongong sites. 

Following the success of the pilot the NRMA and Gymea Community Aid and Information Service have committed to continue the DriveTime Program over the next two years. During this time it is hoped 400+ more refugees will receive driver licensing support. 

A driver’s licence is an important part of the settlement journey for newly arrived refugees and migrants, as it gives them the keys to access such things as education, employment, health, social activities and allows them to play a pivotal role in their community. 

NRMA Group CEO Rohan Lund said moving to a new country could be tough for anybody, let alone those on humanitarian visas who had come from vulnerable situations. 

“We are proud the NRMA has a part to play in helping refugees and migrants in the first stages of settlement into their new lives by helping them obtain the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to drive safely on Australian roads and in-turn gain meaningful employment,” Mr Lund said.

“The privilege of driving is critical to enjoying life and gaining financial and personal freedom. As a mobility-driven organisation the NRMA can work with refugees and migrants to increase their access to mobility by breaking down the barriers to getting a licence.

“The NRMA is pleased this pilot program has had such an impact and we look forward to continuing to work with Gymea Community Aid and Information Service to ensure even more refugees and migrants in the Western Sydney area get the chance to access the opportunities mobility brings.” 

Mr Ray Williams, NSW Minister for Multiculturalism, presented participants with their certificates at the ceremony and congratulated the NRMA and Gymea Community Aid and Information Service for providing such a life-changing initiative. 

“NRMA’s DriveTime Program is a great example of how innovative initiatives in the corporate sector can make a real difference to the lives of refugees,” Mr Williams said.
 
“A driver’s licence is not only a ticket to mobility. It also symbolises freedom and independence, and we know just how vital this is when it comes to feeling at home and valued in a new country.

"This outstanding program pairs volunteer mentor driving instructors with participants from refugee backgrounds, which is also a great way to learn across cultures and start new friendships.”

Gymea Community Aid and Information Service General Manager, Joanne Cracknell, said the community based not-for-profit felt very fortunate to have the backing of the NRMA and the Minister for Multiculturalism. 

“A licence is a life-changing tool that helps break the shackles of unemployment, social isolation and disadvantage. It’s about empowering people to become integrated and independent members of their community. It has been such a pleasure to watch this change take place in our clients’ lives,” Ms Cracknell said. 

Volunteers are still required in the Fairfield area to help participants prepare for their learner licence test, or supervise their driving in preparation for their provisional test.

Members of the community who would like to volunteer their time as a Driver Knowledge Test Mentor or Driving Supervision Mentor can visit DriveTime to find out more.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION 

Of the 26 participants graduating in Fairfield:

  • 12 are female
  • 9 obtained their P1 licence
  • 22 obtained their learner licence
  • 12 had no prior driving experience
  • 16 received instruction from NRMA driver training
  • 24 participated in car maintenance training with NRMA patrols
Case studies available for interview upon request:

Payam Gouya
Payam was born in Iran and was a refugee in Malaysia for nine years. After the United Nations forwarded his case to the Australian government, Payam was approved and settled in Australia late 2016. Following three unsuccessful attempts to obtain his NSW licence, Payam struggled to attend medical appointments for his heart condition and take his children to school. Thanks to Payam’s caseworker at Settlement Services International, he was referred to the DriveTime Program, received driver licensing support and successfully obtained his licence. 

Babel Youkhana 
Babel was born in Iraq and fled to Lebanon when her university was destroyed and living conditions deteriorated. With the help of an NGO, Babel’s family lodged an application with the United Nations and her case to settle in Australia was accepted. Babel is currently at TAFE studying and obtained her learner licence through the DriveTime Program. She is currently building her confidence behind the wheel with the help of NRMA Driver Training and volunteer mentors.

Media contact: Saoirse Connolly