Goodwill ambassador Cate Blanchett ‘shaken and enriched’ by work with refugees

During a visit to UNHCR’s headquarters in Geneva, Blanchett says organization provides a vital “moral compass” in times of record displacement.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett addresses staff at the UN Refugee Agency’s headquarters in Geneva. © UNHCR/Susan Hopper

GENEVA – UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett today said her work with refugees has left her “shaken and enriched,” and praised the UN Refugee Agency for providing a vital “moral compass” amid the global displacement crisis.

Blanchett visited UNHCR’s headquarters during a two-day trip to Geneva, speaking to hundreds of staff members assembled in the atrium.

Since becoming part of the UNHCR family in 2014, the two-time Oscar winner said her life has been “both shaken and enriched.”

“Shaken by the scale of the ever-growing displacement crisis, from Syria to South Sudan, to Bangladesh … Shaken by the moving individual stories of tragedy that lie behind the vast numbers.

“But enriched too by the privilege of meeting refugee families who have shown the most incredible resilience, dignity and generosity in the face of unfathomable circumstances. Once you have borne witness, you cannot turn away.”

“Once you have borne witness, you cannot turn away.”

Since Blanchett became a Goodwill Ambassador two years ago, the numbers of men, women and children driven from their homes by wars and persecution worldwide has climbed to a record 65.6 million, including more than 21 million refugees.

“I’ve been shocked, and I’ve been profoundly moved by the stories of refugees that I’ve heard, and also, like you, been frustrated and angered by the lack of global momentum to permanently reverse the factors that contribute to the global displacement crisis,” she said. “The numbers alone beggar belief.”

In her role as a Goodwill Ambassador, Blanchett has undertaken fact-finding missions to Lebanon and Jordan, to meet refugees and stateless people who have been displaced by the Syrian conflict.

She paid tribute to the “patience, passion and compassion” of the UNHCR staff she met in the field, and said witnessing the vital work that they undertake has been “remarkable and energizing.”

“You talk of course about giving refugees hope, and that is absolutely vital. But for what it’s worth, you – as an organization – give me hope,” she said.

“You have seen it all. You navigate these difficult waters on a daily basis, and what I really want to say today is thank you … It’s clear that this organization truly has a moral compass that is so vitally important to the world right now.”

“This organization truly has a moral compass that is so vitally important to the world right now.”

In her role as Goodwill Ambassador, Blanchett, an Australian, has also met refugee and asylum-seeker families who had previously been transferred by Australia to Christmas Island, Nauru and Papua New Guinea. She heard first-hand of the immense harm they had suffered under Australia’s “offshore-processing” approach.

Speaking in Geneva, she said that the “open-hearted, welcoming” country that she grew up in “had been positively built on immigration and its humane treatment of refugees” and prided itself on being multicultural.

“But bit by bit, and certainly over the last decade specifically, it’s become a fortress,” she said.

This compelled her to take up advocacy for refugees: “I couldn’t ignore it any longer. Not just what was happening on my own home turf but around the world.”

Concluding her visit, Blanchett said she looked forward to working closely with UNHCR in the year ahead, and thanked staff “from the bottom of my heart, for so warmly welcoming me into your remarkable family.”

“We’re at the beginning of a potentially game-changing year. The convening role you are playing in forging a new blueprint for a more equitable and sustainable response to the refugee crisis is to be applauded.”


About UNHCR:

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is a global organization dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people. UNHCR leads international action to protect people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. UNHCR delivers life-saving assistance like shelter, food and water, helps safeguard fundamental human rights, and develops solutions that ensure people have a safe place to call home where they can build a better future. UNHCR also works to ensure that stateless people are granted a nationality. UNHCR’s dedicated teams are on the ground in some 130 countries across the world, working in partnership with governments, NGOs, the private sector, community groups, host communities as well as refugees.