Gimme Shelter: Ben Affleck and UNHCR launch campaign for Congolese

News Stories, 18 December 2008

© UNHCR/J.Graylock
Ben Affleck and former Congolese refugee Rose Mapendo at the launch of the "Gimme Shelter" campaign in New York.

NEW YORK, United States, December 18 (UNHCR) Hollywood actor and director Ben Affleck joined the UN refugee agency this week to launch the organization's global campaign to aid those uprooted by continuing conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Central to the campaign is a short film directed by Affleck and shot last month in North Kivu province, where tens of thousands have fled for their lives since fighting resumed earlier this year. The "Gimme Shelter" campaign takes its name from the classic Rolling Stones song, which provides the film's soundtrack and which was donated to UNHCR by the group.

Speaking before a screening of the film at UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday, Affleck pointed to the campaign's twin objectives to raise awareness of the humanitarian emergency in the DRC and to raise funds to assist those caught in the middle of the violence.

"UNHCR is on the ground helping those affected by the violence by providing protection, shelter, water. But these actions are only possible with financial support," he told guests, including media. "What we've tried to do through the film is to answer the question, 'What can I do to help as one individual?' The answer to that is to care."

Also taking part in the event was Rose Mapendo, a former refugee from the DRC who now lives in the United States; Pierre Bertrand, UNHCR's representative in New York; and Melanne Verveer of Vital Voices Global Partnership, which supports emerging women leaders.

The "Gimme Shelter" campaign aims to help the UN refugee agency raise US$23 million for humanitarian assistance to those affected by the crisis.

"What is going on in the DRC should be headline news every day," said UNHCR's Bertrand. "As this film shows, this is not an invisible emergency, but it is a neglected one; one that is not sufficiently on the agenda of decision makers."

Before coming to the US in 2000, Mapendo spent two years in a prison camp in the DRC where her husband was executed and where she gave birth to twin boys on the concrete floor of her cell. At Wednesday's launch, she spoke of her joy at witnessing the outpouring of concern over events in her native land. "Everyone needs to believe that they can do something to help these forgotten people," she said.

The "Gimme Shelter" film is being distributed worldwide via the internet, television, mobile phones, cinemas and hotel chains to raise awareness of UNHCR's global work for refugees and to encourage donations for displaced Congolese. Its slogan, that help is "just a click away," emphasizes the point that individuals can make a difference.

There are currently 1.3 million displaced people in the DRC, many of them earlier victims caught up in the long cycle of violence. The effects of the conflict have claimed as many as 5.4 million lives in the last 10 years, with an estimated 1,000 people still dying every day.