Angelina Jolie named UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador for refugees

Press Releases, 23 August 2001

GENEVA American actress Angelina Jolie will help bring awareness about refugees as the U.N. refugee agency's Goodwill Ambassador. At a ceremony Monday (27 August) with staff at UNHCR headquarters in Geneva, the 26 year-old Jolie will be given the honorary title by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

"We are very pleased that Ms. Jolie has generously agreed to give her time and energy to support UNHCR's work," Mr. Lubbers said. "She can help give a voice to refugees, many of whom live in the shadows of forgotten tragedies. We are proud to welcome her to the UNHCR family."

Several months ago, Ms. Jolie approached UNHCR saying she wanted to learn more about humanitarian action for refugees. Since March, she has made arduous field visits to refugee camps in Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Cambodia and Pakistan. She insisted on covering all costs related to her missions and shared the same rudimentary working and living conditions as UNHCR field staff.

"I was shocked by what I saw," Ms. Jolie said of her field visits. "We cannot close ourselves off to information and ignore the fact that millions of people are out there suffering. I honestly want to help. I don't believe I feel differently from other people. I think we all want justice and equality, a chance for a life with meaning. All of us would like to believe that if we were in a bad situation someone would help us."

Reflecting on her time spent with humanitarian field workers, she added, "you go to these places and you realize what life's really about and what people are really going through. These people are my heroes."

Ms. Jolie kept a journal of her mission to Africa which can be found on the website www.usaforunhcr.org. Her journals for Cambodia and Pakistan will soon follow.

UNHCR, which has won two Nobel Peace Prizes over the past 50 years, cares for some 22 million refugees and other uprooted people in some 120 countries.

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UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to Iraq in July 2009 to offer support to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who remain displaced within their own country.

During her day-long visit to Baghdad, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited a makeshift settlement for internally displaced people in north-west Baghdad where she met families displaced from the district of Abu Ghraib, located to the west of Baghdad, and from the western suburbs of the capital.

Despite the difficulties in Iraq, Jolie said this was a moment of opportunity for Iraqis to rebuild their lives. "This is a moment where things seem to be improving on the ground, but Iraqis need a lot of support and help to rebuild their lives."

UNHCR estimates that 1.6 million Iraqis were internally displaced by a wave of sectarian warfare that erupted in February 2006 after the bombing of a mosque in the ancient city of Samarra. Almost 300,000 people have returned to their homes amid a general improvement in the security situation since mid-2008.

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More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

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Jolie was clearly moved by the spirit - and the ordeal - of the people she met and she pledged to highlight their case. Most of the people she talked to have been living in exile since the end of the 1992-1995 conflict. Jolie visited collective centres in the towns of Gorazde and Rogatica, where the inhabitants lack basic services such as running water.

The actress spent some time with a group of women who were raped or tortured during the war. Their tales left a deep impression on her. She also met a family of refugee returnees who were still waiting to move into their village home near the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad.

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