Goodwill in the Land of Smiles

News Stories, 22 May 2002

© Reuters
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie having a ball with refugee children in Thailand's Tham Hin camp. Photo courtesy of and

BANGKOK, Thailand (UNHCR) Braving monsoon showers, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited the Tham Hin refugee camp in Thailand on May 19. This day-long visit marked her first visit to a refugee camp in Southeast Asia.

Accompanied by the UN refugee agency's Regional Representative, Jahanshah Assadi, she toured the camp and was briefed by the Thai authorities in the camp as well as the refugee committee and refugee elders. She visited the clinic, spoke with medics and health workers and met many refugees.

At the camp school, Jolie was welcomed by a traditional Karen dance performed by refugee children. Later, at a simple ceremony in the school, she donated a television set, video player and generator for educational and vocational training purposes, along with sports equipment. She also donated a sarong to every refugee woman in the camp.

In return, the refugee community presented Jolie with an embroidered traditional ethnic Karen dress, which she wore, much to the delight of the group. Sitting on floor mats, she distributed soccer balls to the throngs of excited children.

Tham Hin camp, established in 1997, is situated near the Thai-Myanmar border and has a population of some 9,000 predominantly ethnic Karen refugees from Myanmar.

When asked for her impressions of the camp, Jolie said the refugees were "really taking care of, and taking responsibility for, themselves.... This camp is a real example of a working camp".

The Goodwill Ambassador expressed her appreciation to the Royal Thai Government for its humanitarian policy towards refugees, and paid a special tribute to the Thai people and host communities for their compassion and generosity to refugees over the years.

"Everybody would like to go home," she said, expressing hope that the refugees will be able to return home voluntarily in the near future under safe and dignified conditions. "To prepare them for what they are going to be, training will help," she added, emphasising the need for proper education and vocational training for refugees in order for them to lead productive lives once they return home.

At the end of her visit to the camp, Jolie pledged US$100,000 towards vocational and educational training activities benefiting the refugee population and host community.

Prior to the Tham Hin camp, Jolie had visited camps in Pakistan, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. She was most recently in Osire camp in Namibia, where she donated food, tents, sports equipment, and made a private contribution towards education materials and support for the Women's Centre.

Indrika Ratwatte
UNHCR Bangkok