UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie wraps up mission to Ecuador
Actress and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie today ended a mission to Ecuador, where she visited Colombian refugees and got a first-hand look at the Western Hemisphere's most severe humanitarian crisis.
"I'm just now starting to understand this very complex situation," said Ms. Jolie, who spent four days in the country. "People's lives are truly in danger - not just in the sense that you feel your town is unsafe - their lives are actually being threatened and their houses are being burnt down."
Caught in a 40-year internal conflict that has left hundreds of thousands dead and displaced close to 2 million people, the violence in Colombia is raising regional concerns, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Thousands have fled to neighbouring Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador, and many thousands more have sought asylum in Costa Rica, North America and Europe. In Ecuador alone, an estimated 7,000 Colombian refugees and asylum seekers have come seeking protection, with about 300 new arrivals every month.
Ms. Jolie, who as UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador has already witnessed massive refugee operations in Asia and Africa, said her first experience in the Andean region opened her eyes to the prevalence of the violence and displacement. "What was really shocking was that every individual person you meet will tell you that their immediate family was [affected]," she said. "Somebody's child was killed, somebody's husband, someone was beaten."
Ms. Jolie said she was impressed and thankful that Ecuador was so open to the plight of its neighbours. According to the Government, there are some 225,000 Colombians living in the country.
"The majority of the people of concern to UNHCR are still inside [Colombia]," she said. "There are hundreds of thousands of people in trouble, but because we can't see them crossing [the border], maybe that's why the world isn't talking about it so much."
An Oscar-winning actress who has starred in such movies as Girl, Interrupted, Pushing Tin and Tomb Raider, Ms. Jolie has been active with UNHCR for close to two years and has been a Goodwill Ambassador since last August. She has met with refugees in Sierra Leone, Namibia, Tanzania, Cambodia, Thailand and Pakistan, and has personally contributed generously to UNHCR programmes.