Jolie visited UNHCR headquarters during a one-day trip to Geneva, speaking to hundreds of staff members assembled in the atrium.
“This is like coming home. I was first here 16 years ago and had no idea what was ahead of me. I am sure many of you sometimes feel the same way.”
In the years she has worked with UNHCR, Jolie noted that the number of people driven from their homes by wars and persecution had surged to 65 million from 22 million, presenting a challenge to the world and in particular the UN Refugee Agency.
“You have more people under your care, you have more to be concerned with, you have more to do, and you have less support, and I can’t imagine how hard it must be for you sometimes coming to work every day,” Jolie said.
The rise in displacement comes at a moment when lasting solutions to the conflicts and other situations driving displacement remain elusive.
“And, I know, many days you must feel, when you read the news, when you do your work, when you go into the field, ’are we doing enough? Will we ever be able to do enough? Will we ever be able to get on top of this situation?”
“Probably like most field officers, I know you think more about those you couldn’t help, than all those you have helped. But know there’s a reason why I’m so proud to be with UNHCR, because the work you do, and what you do in the field, and the lives you help to save and the people you help to get through their days … makes all the difference.”
Speaking of the many challenges facing UNHCR and the broader humanitarian community, Jolie urged staff to “really step forward and say who we are and who we fight for and work even harder. So I am with you, not just for my contract, I am with you for life. You can’t walk away once you’ve joined UNHCR.”
The Special Envoy recounted an anecdote about visits to the field, talking with UNHCR staff over drinks or dinner, when the conversation inevitably turns to policies or refugees. “You can’t shake it. It’s who you become. So we stand here as family and I am with you.”
She concluded, saying simply: “I hope I represent you as best I can in all your work, and I will continue to.”
During her visit to UNHCR, Jolie met with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, to renew the agreement for her as a UNHCR Special Envoy.
She also was also delivering the annual lecture for the Sergio Vieira de Mello foundation, which honours the memory and work of the UNHCR staff member and diplomat, who was killed in Iraq in 2003 when the United Nations office in Baghdad was bombed by terrorists.