The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has promoted their good will ambassador, actress Angelina Jolie after ten years with the agency.
Jolie has spent the past ten years visiting 40 refugee camps in more than 20 countries around the world, always without an entourage, wearing local clothing and traveling with aid workers and a translator. She is known through the aid community for getting very personally involved with the refugees she meets, once photographed climbing the outside of a bus to speak with the women and children riding on the top. She has testified in Congress and to governmental bodies around the world on the plight of refugees, and joined forces with well-known humanitarian Jeffrey Sachs on projects such as bringing malaria nets to small African villages. Jolie has also donated over $5 million to build schools in Kenya and Afghanistan.
Now, she will be focusing on places like Somalia and Afghanistan where the wars have driven millions from their homelands into refugee camps in neighboring countries.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in Geneva that the agency “is pleased to announce today that Angelina Jolie will take on a new and expanded role for the U. N. refugee agency as Special Envoy of High Commissioner Antonio Guterres. In her new role, she is expected to focus on large-scale crises resulting in the mass displacement of people, to undertake advocacy and represent UNHCR and Mr. Guterres at the diplomatic level.” He said that this may include “conveying messages to governments” and stressing to them the need to abide by human rights laws. “Quite honestly, I don’t think you need a rocket scientist to see the benefits that she is bringing in terms of attention that she’s getting for the plight of the world’s displaced. This is an exceptional position reflecting an exceptional role she has performed for us.” Edwards concluded.
Last year, Jolie went to the Tunisian border with Libya to meet African migrant workers who had been displaced by the revolution, and accompanied Guterres to the Italian island of Lampedusa to meet other migrants who had managed to cross from Libya.
Jolie became interested in the problems of international poverty and displacement when she was filming Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in Cambodia in 2000, when she first applied to adopt a Cambodian child. She first approached the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to work with them, but they thought she was incompatible with their image.
It would be March of 2002 before she was able to adopt seven-month old Maddox as a single parent, even though she was married to Billy Bob Thornton at the time. In 2005, she adopted six-month old Zahara in Addis Ababa, Ethopia. Zahara was believed at the time to be an AIDS orphan. In 2006, Brad Pitt adopted the children and their names were changed to Jolie-Pitt. They were followed by the birth in Namibia of Jolie and Pitt’s daughter Shiloh, the adoption of Vietnamese Pax in 2007 and the births in France of the Jolie-Pitt twins Knox and Vivienne in 2008.
Jolie and Pitt, who announced their engagement this past weekend, manage to balance raising six children under the age of 11, award-winning and -nominated film careers, and his-and-her humanitarian work. Pitt has been very involved in the rebuilding of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. Perhaps with this new role for the United Nations, Jolie might get past her habit of explaining to people she feels are important that she never went to college and she’s not very well educated.