unhcr, angelina jolie

Yesterday, June 20, Angelina Jolie delivered a powerful address to commemorate World Refugee Day together with Syrian refugees at the Midyat Refugee Camp in Mardin, south-eastern Turkey. 

Angelina Jolie’s no-nonsense speech highlighted the scale of the global refugee crisis and reminded international governments that they are failing at addressing the root cause and treatment of displaced people.

As UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Special Envoy, and former UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, Jolie has worked very closely with the agency over 14 years, and has seen first-hand the devastation faced by displaced people.

Her reason for being in Turkey is simple – Turkey is currently the epi-centre of the refugee crisis, it has overtaken Pakistan as the biggest refugee-hosting country in the world. As Jolie contextualised: “This region is at the epi-centre of a global crisis. Nearly 60 million people are displaced from their homes. That is one in every 122 people on our planet… The greatest single source of these massive refugee flows is Syria. In the space of four years, Turkey has become the country with the largest number of refugees anywhere in the world, with 1.8 million displaced Syrian and Iraqis. Lebanon, where I was yesterday, is hosting an even greater density of displaced people: every fourth person in Lebanon is now a Syrian refugee.”

unhcr, angelina jolie

Jolie also focused on the human aspect of what it means to be displaced adding: “The average stay in a refugee camp is 17 years. Think of your own life. Think of what that would mean. For many, it is their entire childhood. During displacement you might be able to get an education, or continue your education. But very likely, you will not. As a refugee, you cannot legally work in a host country. So your skills and education will dull over those long years and your much-needed contribution will be lost. As a refugee you learn how the world feels about you. You know if your suffering causes outrage and compassion – or if it is mostly ignored. Families like the six young people I met yesterday, living in Lebanon without parents, on half food rations and paying US$100 a month to live in a tent because UNHCR does not have the funds or capability to take full care of everyone – they know.”

As Jolie points out, it is these refugees who will hopefully return to their countries to rebuild once the war is over. They will be the ones who the international community will look to to bring stability back to the region. “We should see this time in displacement as the time where we should take the most care,” continued Jolie, “and give the most support. Not because they are vulnerable, but because in fact they are the future stability of all the countries we say we are so concerned about.”

Her major criticism was of the international community who she feels is not using its laws and resources to deal with the cause of the displacement – the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, “It is hard to point to a single instance where as an international community we are decisively addressing the root causes of refugee flows… The global crisis is showing us that this narrow view of dealing with conflict is wrong and ineffective. UNHCR, along with other UN and NGO agencies, cannot be expected to manage the chaos of a population the size of France displaced.”

In a bold statement, she reiterates: “But I say to those countries, your job is not to fund displacement but to prevent it. To end it.”

The Hollywood star, who is on her world for UNHCR with her daughter Shiloh,  feels that it is time for action: “”We have the tools we need – the resolutions, the doctrines, the conventions, the courts. But if these tools are misused, inconsistently applied or applied in a self-serving way, we will continue on this trend of displacement and it will grow and grow… We all know what needs to be done, we must do better… I call, again, on the United Nations Security Council: Send your ministers and ambassadors here. Witness this crisis for yourself. See that it simply cannot go on. And that it is past time for a credible plan to reach a political solution to end the conflict.”

Jolie concluded her moving address by thanking those countries that are helping: “I thank the people of Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan for their generosity, and all host countries. To all the families here, and around our world, marking this Holy Month, I say, ‘Ramadan Kareem.‘ And I pay tribute to refugees themselves –the people we rightly celebrate today, not only here in Turkey but around the world. Thank you.”


Images:  UNHCR