UN agency goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie urges help for Burmese, Afghan refugees

6 November 2006
Jolie listens to Sikh children playing religious music

United Nations refugee agency Goodwill Ambassador and international film star Angelina Jolie has visited Afghan and Burmese women refugees in India, some of whom were forced to flee persecution in their countries almost 30 years ago, and praised their courage while calling on the world community to do more to end their plight.

“I am grateful to the refugee families who spent time with me and shared their stories. They are remarkable, courageous people,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Goodwill Ambassador Ms. Jolie said during a visit this weekend to the agency’s Women's Protection Clinic in west Delhi, a place where refugee women from Myanmar can come and air their problems in a safe environment.

“It's very moving to hear about the persecution the refugees have endured. It is clear they cannot go home, and they have a hard time settling down in India, so it is fortunate that for many of them there is a happy ending in resettlement in another country.”

Interviews at the clinic enable UNHCR to better help the women – by getting them medical care, or arranging education for their children. Longer term, many of the women are scheduled to be resettled in countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway and the United States. Many of the refugees are from the Chin minority, Christians in officially-Buddhist Myanmar.

Ms. Jolie, who is in India making a film, also visited Khalsa Diwan Welfare Society, an organization run by and for Sikh Afghan refugees in west Delhi, where she dropped in on tailoring, music and English classes. Many of the Afghan Sikhs, who were a persecuted minority in their own country, have been in India for nearly three decades; most of the young refugees Ms. Jolie met were born in India and have never seen Afghanistan.

She said it was tragic these Afghan refugees – who number 9,500 in New Delhi – had languished in exile for so many years. “We often focus on refugee emergencies, but we forget that there are millions of refugees around the world who spend years, even decades, outside their countries. The international community really must work harder to find solutions for these forgotten refugees.”

The Afghan and Burmese women she met were among the 11,500 refugees in the Indian capital who are directly under the care of the UN refugee agency.

On Sunday, Ms. Jolie met Indian civic leaders and Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma. She thanked both the people and Government of India for “their longstanding hospitality to refugees” and for an “open-door policy” to those displaced by recent fighting in Sri Lanka.

In addition to the 11,500 refugees cared for by the UN refugee agency directly, India is also home to about 110,000 Tibetan refugees and more than 100,000 refugees from Sri Lanka who are looked after by the Indian Government. Since violence flared on the island state in April this year, more than 18,000 Sri Lankans have sought refuge in southern India’s Tamil Nadu state.


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