News Stories, 7 October 2003
GENEVA, Oct 7 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency's Goodwill Ambassador, Angelina Jolie, today released two journals offering rare insight into her recent experiences with displaced people in Kosovo and Sri Lanka.
The journals, which are available on the UNHCR website, capture the hope and despair of the refugees, returnees and displaced people Jolie met while on mission to these post-conflict societies.
In Kosovo from December 27-30 last year, the Goodwill Ambassador visited return sites and met a team of women de-miners in the capital, Pristina. She also travelled to various enclaves in the volatile Mitrovica region, where she met Croatian refugees, minorities and mixed communities.
"It's a sad place," she notes. "Hard to see how it can ever return to normal. No real joy, but there is the ability to survive. To move on, to try to rebuild. To try to make neighbours of old enemies."
Despite the bleakness, Jolie observes that hope springs in unexpected places. Describing the scene when a UNHCR worker turns up with flowers one day, she writes, "This leads to a long discussion as most people in the room haven't seen flowers for a very long time. 'Where did you get them? Were they flown in?' 'No, there is a small glass house behind a building and they are starting to grow them there.'.... The conversation goes on for a while, and I realise I have never taken so much notice of a few flowers. What it means for things to be growing. How flowers can bloom in a frozen, bombed out country. And how much that can mean?"
In Sri Lanka, which she visited from April 14-15 this year, she encountered similar survival instincts.
Life is hard for Sri Lankans after 20 years of civil war. At the home of a returnee family in the north, Jolie reports, "The wife says simply, 'We are finding it very hard to live. Sometimes we think maybe we starve – maybe we will set fire to ourselves. Maybe it will be better somewhere else.' The kids tell us, 'No, we have to stay strong. It will get better, but I don't know when.'"
But the will to survive is strong. At another house, "the grandfather points to a large pile of rubble and says, 'My brother's house. He has not seen it yet.' He jokes, 'Much work to do.' There is nothing to do but cry and start all over," writes Jolie.
Such personal insight and day-to-day accounts are not new to the Goodwill Ambassador, who keeps a journal on all her missions to the field. Many of those journals can now be found in a soon-to-be-published book, "Notes from My Travels" (Simon and Schuster).
Jolie, an Oscar-winning actress, has been active with the UN refugee agency for the past two and a half years and was appointed UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in August 2001. To raise awareness and support for refugees, she has travelled with the agency to Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Balkans and the North Caucasus. She has also contributed generously to UNHCR programmes.