Angelina Jolie and UNHCR chief Guterres shocked at Mediterranean high seas tragedy

News Stories, 6 April 2011

© Franco Lannino/ANSA
A boat arrives in Lampedusa after leaving North Africa. The boat that sank on Wednesday tried to make the same journey.

GENEVA, April 6 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie expressed "deep shock" on Wednesday at the reported drownings of 213 people in rough waters some 60 kilometres off the southern coast of Italy.

According to survivors, the group, including Somalis, Eritreans and Ivorians, set off from Libya three days ago in an attempt to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean. They told UNHCR that many women and three children were among the 213 people who are presumed to have drowned when the vessel foundered on Wednesday. The Italian coastguard rescued 47 people, including two women, one of them pregnant.

"These people were refugees twice," Guterres said. "They fled war and persecution in their own countries and now, in their attempt to seek safety in Italy, they tragically lost their lives."

This is particularly disturbing, Guterres said, at a time when UNHCR and other organizations are providing humanitarian aid and refugee protection to people fleeing across the land borders of Libya. "I appeal to all those patrolling the Mediterranean Sea to do everything they can to help vessels in distress."

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie, who today concluded a two-day trip to Tunisia, said, "Having just spent time with similar families fleeing the violence in Libya, I am deeply saddened by the large loss of life of people who were simply trying to escape war and find refuge. It is all the more devastating knowing that children were on board."

Jolie, who visited Tunisia's border with Libya, added, "It is urgent that we find ways to ensure safe passage out of Libya for the civilians caught in the crossfire."

Libya has traditionally been a transit and destination country for refugees. UNHCR has recognized 8,000 Palestinian, Iraqi, Sudanese, Ethiopian, Somali and Eritrean refugees inside Libya. A further 3,000 were seeking asylum while thousands more, who lacked access to UNHCR's office in Tripoli, were believed to be in the country.

People from sub-Saharan Africa seem to be particularly at risk as they are being associated with foreign mercenaries. Many are taking desperate measures to escape.

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The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

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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.

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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.

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