Councillors call for Government action to help Afghan refugees in Catterick Garrison

Two local councillors have written to the Government asking for action to prevent Afghan refugees from losing their right to drive on UK roads.

Councillors Kevin Foster and Councillor Tom Jones were made aware that Afghan refugees in the Catterick area were faced with losing their driving licences – including one who had previously worked as a driver on a NATO base in Afghanistan and whose son requires regular trips to James Cook Hospital for medical attention.

Under current rules, Afghan refugees who hold an Afghan or international driving licence are able to drive on UK roads for 12 months after their arrival before having to obtain a UK driving licence in order to continue driving.

However, following the arrival of Afghan refugees into the country, the Covid-19 lockdown seriously affected both driving lessons and driving tests.

Due to the huge waiting times for both driving lessons and tests, the councillors are calling for this period to be extended so refugees may continue to drive using their current licence for another year – a full 24 months after their arrival.

As a result of Covid there are an estimated half a million learner drivers facing disruption.

New Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency figures show that wait times for a practical driving test have increased to over half a million in May of this year, an increase of over 30,000 over the last year.

The average waiting time for a test slot is now over three months.

Cllr Foster, who represents Hipswell and Colburn, said: “We know this isn’t limited to this one example.

“We understand that the Government has to make sure these drivers are safe, but the circumstances have changed so much since the 12 month deadline was set, there have to be some allowances for this – otherwise, we aren’t giving them a fair crack of the whip. Plus, with a year’s experience on UK roads, these drivers are safer than when they first arrived.’

Cllr Jones, who represents Scotton and Lower Wensleydale, said: “For the last 12 months these refugees have been busy rebuilding their lives. Adjusting you and your family to a new life, a new country and a new language is already enough work for a year.

“These refugees now racing to meet an arbitrary deadline that no longer makes sense. Can it be right to take from a people who already have lost so much?”