Actress Angelina Jolie, who works with the United Nation’s Refugee Agency, has co-written a stirring opinion piece for the Times in the U.K. where she makes a heartfelt plea for understanding of and generosity towards Syrian refugees.
In the piece (“Don’t blame refugees for seeking a better life“), Angelina Jolie and Arminka Helic, who herself is refugee who fled from the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and is now a member of the British House of Lords, work to humanize the refugees and urge others to consider what they would do if they were in the same position.
“It should come as no surprise that people who have endured years of war, or who have been living in refugee camps on dwindling rations, are taking matters into their own hands. How many of us could honestly say that in their shoes we would not do the same, confronted by fear, lack of hope, and a glaring lack of international political will to end the conflict.”
Angelina Jolie and Arminka Helic emphasize that there is a difference between economic migrants and refugees and right now refugees must take priority.
“…at this moment of emergency, we should be conscious of the distinction between economic migrants, who are trying to escape extreme poverty, and refugees who are fleeing an immediate threat to their lives….[R]efugees are facing an immediate need to be saved from persecution and death and their rights are defined in international law. That is why effective reception and screening are so important, to enable claims to be analysed and protection extended to those who need it.”
The pair also stressed that just taking refugees is not enough, that the war in Syria must be halted through diplomatic means. Angelina Jolie chastises the United Nations for their inaction.
“It is staggering that since the beginning of the war in Syria, the United Nations security council has yet to visit the region, which many of us would see as an essential starting point for diplomacy. The peace initiative that started in Geneva four years ago has petered out, and the energy with which the Iranian nuclear negotiations were conducted has failed so far to materialise for Syria.”
For World Refugee Day in June, Angelina Jolie spent time with a Syrian refugee family she had met the previous year, bringing her daughter Shiloh with her for the experience. She discussed the trip with People magazine.
“Shiloh is very aware that I hold refugee families in high regard and has been asking to come on missions and meet them for many years.”
The Times opinion piece comes a day after Angelina Jolie spoke in front of a British parliamentary committee, as reported by the National Post, where she blasted the use of sexual violence by the Islamic State.
“They are dictating it as policy… beyond what we have seen before. It is a very effective weapon, and they are using it as a center-point of their terror and their way of destroying communities and families, and attacking and dehumanizing… The most important thing is to understand what it’s not: it’s not sexual, it’s a violent, brutal, terrorizing weapon and it is used unfortunately, everywhere.”
According to the Guardian, three years ago, along with former British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Angelina Jolie set up an organization to fight the use of rape in war called the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI). Last year, the pair co-chaired a global summit on sexual violence in conflict. Angelina Jolie’s speech to the parliamentary committee on Tuesday was given to outline the progress made by the PSVI since 2012.
[Photo from Getty Images / Sean Gallup]