Jolie to take on new UN refugee role

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 04, 2011 12:43 PM
Jolie to take on new UN refugee role

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - Angelina Jolie will be taking on a new role in the world's most complex and dramatic refugee crises, the American actress and United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said Tuesday.

UNHCR sources told Reuters that she would be named Special Representative on the Afghan refugee situation, to help resolve the fate of 2.7 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran.

Jolie, who has served for 10 years as goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and donated $5 million to its aid operations, declined to be specific, telling reporters: "We are looking at a few countries in the world.

"We're hoping to discuss it in the next few weeks but we want to research it properly and do it well," she said after addressing a meeting of UNHCR's Executive Committee in Geneva.

Antonio Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told the talks that Jolie would become "our special envoy mainly for the most dramatic refugee situations that require a lot of advocacy" and to mobilize strong international support.

"We will be asking you to do more and more in this regard," he said. Jolie's diplomatic skills, vision and insights would be harnessed to tackle "some of the most complex problems we face."

"VULNERABLE YET RESILIENT" REFUGEES

The Oscar-winning Jolie, dressed in black, said that refugees whom she had met during her 40 field missions for UNHCR in hotspots from Pakistan to Kenya were "among the most vulnerable and yet the most resilient people in the world."

"My personal experiences with UNHCR have been moving, sometimes heartbreaking, but always rewarding and unforgettable," she said.

Jolie, who makes her directorial debut with the Bosnian wartime romance film "In the Land of Blood and Honey," due to be released in December, has six children.

On recent UNHCR missions to Malta and Tunisia, she met families who had fled their native Somalia only to be uprooted again by fresh conflict in Libya, she said.

"I tried to imagine what it must have been like for a mother with children. To risk her life at sea trying to get to Europe from North Africa," she said, noting that some ruthless smugglers had been known to throw women and children overboard.

She recalled a visit in March to the Afghan village of Qala Gadu, north of Kabul, where girls' schools and teachers remain targets of violence. A girl named Sahira pledged to complete her studies through 12th grade if the actress helped build a school.

"It's not hard to say yes, knowing that as an Afghan, her word is her bond. An education is her basic human right and she should not be denied it any longer. Sahira is the future of Afghanistan."

"After decades of displacement and many years of war, we are entering a defining moment for Afghanistan," Jolie added.

The September 20 killing of Burhanuddin Rabbani, Kabul's chief peace negotiator, derailed efforts to forge dialogue with the Taliban to end the 10-year war and raised fears of a dangerous widening of Afghanistan's ethnic rifts.

Although millions of Afghans have returned home in the past decade, Pakistan and Iran still host 1.7 million and 1 million Afghan refugees, respectively, according to the agency.

Jolie made a surprise appearance Monday night at the UNHCR's ceremony to honor a Yemeni aid group credited with rescuing thousands of desperate Somali refugees who arrive in Yemen each year.

Miami-based Colombian pop icon Juanes performed his hits "It's Time to Change" and "Camisa Negra" (The Black Shirt). Norway's Sivert Hoyem, vocalist of the rock band Madrugada, sang "Prisoner of the Road," a ballad about fleeing violence.

Iranian news agency Fars also reported that Jolie was in talks to film in the Islamic Republic, a country where women have to wear Islamic dress -- at least a head scarf and loose-fitting clothes -- in public and on screen.

Movie producer Ali Sartipi said he had been in talks with Jolie's management.

"We intend first to get the okay from Angelina Jolie and then we want to enter negotiations with the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (on whether she will be allowed to work in Iran)," he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Paul Casciato)