Angelina Jolie releases personal journal on plight of Colombian refugees
GENEVA, November 19 (UNHCR) - In an attempt to highlight the human costs of the conflict in Colombia, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie today released a personal journal recounting her impressions and experiences when she met Colombian refugees in Ecuador earlier this year.
Jolie travelled to Ecuador to meet and assist refugees under the care of the UN refugee agency from June 6-10. Through her interviews with individual refugees, her journal details the human impact of the conflict in Colombia and the difficulties continually faced by the refugees and aid agencies helping them. The journal offers a day-by-day account of her trip to the region and her personal notes and reactions to the experience.
The five-day mission was a sobering one for Jolie. In the border town of Ibarra, one of the largest refugee reception centres in Ecuador, she met families who had fled from guerrilla and paramilitary violence. "People's lives are truly in danger - not just in the sense that you feel your town is unsafe - their lives are actually being threatened and their houses are being burnt down."
In Lago Agrio, a few miles from Colombia's hotly-disputed Putumayo province - one of the world's biggest coca-growing regions - the Goodwill Ambassador met dozens of women who are growing their own vegetables to generate extra income.
Of her trip to Ecuador, Jolie writes, "What was really shocking was that every individual person you meet will tell you that their immediate family was [affected]. Somebody's child was killed, somebody's husband. Someone was beaten."
In Ecuador alone, an estimated 8,500 Colombian refugees and asylum seekers have come seeking protection, with about 600 new arrivals every month. The month of October saw 1,200 new asylum seekers in Ecuador, the largest monthly figure since UNHCR began its operations in the country in January 2000. The refugee agency has expressed concern about this and additional potential cross-border movements as the result of recent increases in fighting in border regions in Colombia.
In all, the decades-long internal conflict has left hundreds of thousands dead. It has also displaced some 2 million people within the country and forced tens of thousands more to seek refuge in neighbouring countries or further abroad.
Jolie, an Oscar-winning actor, has been active with the UN refugee agency for the past two years and was appointed UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in August 2001. To raise awareness and support for refugees, she has travelled with the agency to Sierra Leone, Namibia, Tanzania, Kenya, Cambodia, Thailand, Pakistan and Ecuador. She has also contributed generously to UNHCR programmes.