UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie launches centre for unaccompanied children

News Stories, 9 March 2005

© UNHCR/H.Farhad
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie speaks with William McCarren, Chair of the Speakers Committee at the National Press Club, at a luncheon to mark the founding of the National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children.

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 9 (UNHCR) Children fleeing persecution and arriving alone in the United States will now have better access to free legal counsel, thanks to the new National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children in Washington, D.C.

The centre was launched on Tuesday by UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie, who last year donated $500,000 to the centre and who has been advocating for more than two years on the issue of unaccompanied children seeking asylum who are detained in the US.

Speaking to reporters at the National Press Club on Tuesday, Jolie said, "The point of all this is, when children cross into this country alone and they're scared, we must hear them out before we make the choice to either allow them asylum in our country or send them away. It is unethical to not listen to these children. Because without legal representation we are sending children to court to represent themselves in a language that most of them don't understand. And expecting them to recall accounts so frightening and humiliating, they wouldn't want to tell anyone, let alone a room full of strangers."

Each year more than 5,000 children from around the world arrive in the US unaccompanied by adults. Many of these children are asylum seekers who fled armed conflict and human rights abuses in their homelands, including forced recruitment of child soldiers, forced prostitution and servitude, sexual slavery and exploitation, child labour, abuse of street children, child brides and female genital mutilation. Some children come to the US because they have been abused, abandoned or neglected by their parents or caregivers.

A number of these unaccompanied children are apprehended immediately at airports or land borders upon arrival in the US because they lack proper documentation. Others are apprehended after crossing the border illegally. Many are trafficked into the US to work in sweatshops or prostitution rings.

In 2004, over 6,000 children arrived alone in the US and were placed in immigration removal proceedings. These children often go through complex immigration court proceedings alone, without lawyers. After being apprehended, children are placed in the custody of the Division of Unaccompanied Children's Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the Department of Health and Human Services. They are held in shelter facilities around the US and ORR works to get them released to families. About 3,000 children are released every year. Major destination cities include New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Houston and Dallas.

The Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act of 2005 offers the promise of systemic reform in the treatment of these children. Under this bill, there would be a greater emphasis on ensuring pro bono lawyers, and the children would be eligible for guardians. The law would also address remaining deficiencies in the immigration system's treatment of children by requiring special training for immigration judges, prosecutors and pro bono attorneys. The bill has been reintroduced this session and has a great deal of bi-partisan support.

The newly-launched National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children will support this bill by seeking lawyers willing to donate their time to help children access asylum and other forms of humanitarian protection. The centre is being implemented in partnership with the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. The key to the success of this centre is the commitment of large law firms throughout the US to provide pro bono services in their communities.

By Lilli Tnaib in Washington D.C., United States




Barbara Hendricks and UNHCR

Hendricks' activities for refugees since 1986.

Barbara Hendricks Biography

Read about Hendricks' life and career.

Muazzez Ersoy Biography

A Turkish singing delight.

George Dalaras Biography

A star among the pantheon of stars.


Almost half the people of concern to UNHCR are children. They need special care.

George Dalaras and UNHCR

Read about Dalaras's long link with UNHCR.

Muazzez Ersoy and UNHCR

Learn about Muazzez Ersoy's links with UNHCR.

Refworld – Children

Refworld – Children

This Special Feature on Child Protection is a comprehensive source of relevant legal and policy documents, practical tools and links to related websites.

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

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.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

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.

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

Angelina Jolie in Bosnia

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie met with forcibly displaced people on April 5, 2010 during her first visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, called for steps to end the continued suffering of these victims of the Bosnian War after hearing their harrowing tales and seeing their grim living conditions.

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.

Angelina Jolie in Bosnia

Austria: An Overwhelming WelcomePlay video

Austria: An Overwhelming Welcome

They came with water. They came with food. Some rifled through their wardrobe to find something to give. Others remembered the children … and what they might need. Young and old decended on Vienna's busiest train station with a common goal: to help thousands of refugees arriving from Hungary.
Italy: Maya's Song Play video

Italy: Maya's Song

Nawaf, his wife and children are used to the sea, they lived by it and Nawaf was a fisherman back in Syria. They never imagined they would be boarding a boat that was a one way passage out of Syria. Nawaf was on the run after brief time in detention were he was tortured. By the time he release, he was blind in one eye. Now safely in Europe the family is looking forward to restarting their life in Germany, to having their 6-year old daughter go to school for the first time.

Italy: Fashion Designer in MilanPlay video

Italy: Fashion Designer in Milan

Single mother Lamia had her own fashion workshop in Syria, she comes from a comfortable background but lost all her money in the war. Under the sound of gunfire she closed the workshop, took her two children and headed to Sudan in a lorry with dozens other people. She is now seeking asylum in Italy's fashion capital, Milan.