Washington: Angelina Jolie, perhaps the world’s most high-profile advocate for refugees, is stepping away from her role as a special envoy to the United Nations refugee agency, citing a desire to “work differently” outside the United Nations.
“After 20 years working within the UN system I feel it is time for me to work differently, engaging directly with refugees and local organisations, and supporting their advocacy for solutions,” she said in a joint statement with the agency, published on the weekend.
UNHCR’s special envoy Angelina Jolie meets Venezuelan migrants at a United Nations-run camp in Maicao, on the Colombian border. Credit:AP
The Academy Award-winning megastar has worked with UNCHR for more than two decades, serving as special envoy since 2012. That position took her to countries including Lebanon, Yemen and Burkina Faso to meet displaced people and draw attention to some of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. On her Instagram account – which has more than 14 million followers – she posts about Syrian refugees and people displaced by the war in Ukraine.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi praised Jolie as an “important humanitarian partner” for the agency.
“We are grateful for her decades of service, her commitment, and the difference she has made for refugees and people forced to flee,” he said. “After a long and successful time with UNHCR, I appreciate her desire to shift her engagement and support her decision.”
Angelina Jolie, left, meets displaced Yemeni people, who fled their homes during the war, at a makeshift camp in Aden, Lahej, Yemen, in March.Credit:UNHCR via Getty Images
Jolie, according to the announcement, intends to focus on a wider range of humanitarian issues, although she added, “I will continue to do everything in my power in the years to come to support refugees and other displaced people”.
In recent years, Jolie has increasingly voiced criticism of international institutions and the approach of world leaders to conflict and humanitarian crises.
During a visit last year to the Goudebou refugee camp in Burkina Faso, which hosts refugees from the armed conflict in the north of Mali, she blasted the failure of global leaders to adequately help more than 82 million forcibly displaced people in the world at that time.
“The way we as an international community try to address conflict and insecurity is broken,” she said. “It is erratic, it is unequal, it is built on inherited privilege, it is subject to the whim of political leaders, and it is geared towards the interests of powerful countries, including my own, at the expense of others.”
Jolie lamented the relative apathy of world leaders for “crimes committed against the women and children of Burkina Faso, or Yemen, or Myanmar, or Ethiopia, for example”.
Special Envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Angelina Jolie, gives a press conference in the Domiz camp for Syrian refugees in 2018.Credit:AP
She has also appeared to grow increasingly disillusioned with the UN, where permanent members of the powerful Security Council – the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France – exert tremendous sway and have the power to block action on human rights abuses.
“Because of the way the UN was set up, it is tipped towards the interests and voice of powerful nations at the expense of those people suffering the most from conflict and persecution whose rights and lives are not treated equally,” Jolie wrote in an opinion piece for TIME in June. “For decades, the main focus has been the work of international organisations. There’s been not enough attention on listening to local groups and volunteers, and strengthening their efforts.”
In a sign that Jolie was moving away from her work with the UN, the actress made a surprise trip to Ukraine in April to meet with displaced people and volunteers helping them – but in her personal capacity, not through UNHCR.
Angelina Jolie, Hollywood movie star and UNHCR goodwill ambassador, poses for a photo with fans in Lviv, Ukraine, in March.Credit:AP
She had contemplated parting ways with UNHCR for “a while” before the announcement, according to a person close to her, who answered questions on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about the situation.
“Basically, she will be more effective as an outsider,” the person said. “She always has been like that and more with the people than the system.”
Jolie has not shared any details yet about the causes and organisations to which she intends to shift her focus.
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