Breaking out with ChilOut

ChilOut campaign director Sophie Peer and youth ambassador Giselle Newton.
ChilOut campaign director Sophie Peer and youth ambassador Giselle Newton.

Lismore High School student Giselle Newton has been welcomed as a youth ambassador by the organisation ChilOut - Children Out of Immigration Detention. In her role she will work with other ambassadors, including former detainees, to try to convince politicians that young asylum seekers should not be held in mandatory detention.

Giselle said she has been passionate about the issue for some time and had even tried to gain access to a detention centre in Perth.

She was essentially fobbed off by the bureaucracy and realised that if she wanted to do something, she needed to be involved with an organisation.

She discovered ChilOut, an organisation started by six women from Sydney and Canberra in 2001 whose goal is to ensure that no child is kept in an immigration detention centre for more than 14 days. Now Giselle and seven other ambassadors will be going to Canberra to meet with "key politicians" at the end of March.

"This is an issue that isn't going away," she said. "This (mandatory detention) is happening in our name and in 20 years time we will have to explain to our children why we basically kept children in jail. I think we need to take responsibility for that."

ChilOut campaign co-ordinator Sophie Peer met Giselle for the first time on Wednesday morning before a presentation at the school assembly. (Coincidentally Sophie, who lives in Sydney, is a graduate of Lismore High.)

"I am already impressed with Giselle's commitment, her understanding of the issues and her empathy for children in detention," Sophie said.

Sophie said there are two other ambassadors already; one from Iraq and one from Afghanistan, both of whom have spent time in detention.

"For them to meet somebody of their own age who comes from a comfortable life like Giselle and who really cares is a big thing."

The ambassadors will be given some training in talking to politicians and the media, but Sophie said their role talking to people in their own communities was just as important.

"We have not run a (youth ambassador) program for nearly seven years and at this point, with 528 children locked in immigration detention and no sign of the policy ending, we felt it essential to restart the program."

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