News Stories, 29 December 2004
BEIRUT, Dec 29 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency's Goodwill Ambassador, Angelina Jolie, has spent her third consecutive Christmas season with refugees and UNHCR staff in the field, this time in Lebanon.
The American actress was on a private visit to Lebanon from December 19-26, but took the opportunity to visit UNHCR's regional office in Beirut as well as some young refugees and cancer patients in the Lebanese capital.
"Being here for Christmas has been very special," said Jolie. "After so many years of conflict, to see Christmas trees next to mosques – everyone in the holiday spirit – is something beautiful and symbolic of reconciliation. It is an example of hope for other areas of the world."
The Goodwill Ambassador and her three-year-old son Maddox celebrated Christmas with some 30 UNHCR colleagues in Beirut on December 24. She was presented with a gift in a gesture of gratitude for her tireless efforts to spotlight refugees' problems around the world.
Since 2001, Jolie has travelled to more than 16 countries on four continents as UNHCR's Goodwill Ambassador. She shared the Christmas season with refugees in Cairo last December, and with Kosovo's displaced persons and returnees the year before.
In Beirut, UNHCR's regional office coordinates with the branch offices in Amman and Damascus to ensure harmonised standards for protection and assistance to refugees. Lebanon itself is not a party to the 1951 UN Convention or to its 1967 Protocol. Yet since 1963, the country has been a permanent member of UNHCR's Executive Committee, which reviews and approves the agency's programmes and budgets and advises on legal protection matters by setting international standards with respect to the treatment of refugees.
UNHCR cares for some 1,800 refugees in Lebanon, mainly from Iraq, Sudan and Somalia. Last year, a Community Development Centre was established to provide services to refugees, including language training, computer courses, counselling and other activities for refugee women and youths.
Jolie visited this centre, where she met with 12 refugee children from Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, and distributed gifts. One of the children told her, "I just rushed from school to see you because I like you very much and think that you're a beautiful actress and person. It is a great dream and pleasure to meet you! You've done so much to help people and refugees around the world by spreading love, care and happiness."
On December 25, Jolie visited St. Jude's Children's Cancer Centre, where she spent time with 15 cancer patients aged between five and 18, along with their families. She distributed gifts and took photos with the children. Interviewed by a young patient who is a cub-reporter for Al-Nahar, a local Lebanese paper, she told him, "We have a lot to learn from you about strength, survival and hope."
Towards the end of her trip, the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador expressed her gratitude to the government of Lebanon for generously receiving and hosting refugees and urged the international community to continue its support for refugees in the country.