By Myrlia Purcell on
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt spent Christmas Day giving gifts to Colombian refugees in Costa Rica. Jolie, a UNHCR goodwill ambassador, travelled to the Central American country in 2002 to visit a different group of refugees, and returned this year to do what she could to help raise spirits and awareness this Holiday Season.
Four decades of armed conflict between leftist guerrillas, soldiers and paramilitary forces has displaced three million people within Columbia, and forced 11,500 people to seek refuge outside of the country.
“The conflict in Colombia is the greatest humanitarian tragedy in the Western Hemisphere, but it receives very little international attention,” Jolie said after her arrival in San José. “My Christmas message to Colombian refugees and to the millions of displaced people in Colombia is that the world has not totally forgotten them.”
Brad and Angelina arrived in the Colombian capital of San Jose Monday afternoon, where they took time to visit with refugees who have set up businesses thanks to help from a microcredit program run by UNHCR.
The famously charitable couple met with refugee families and handed out gifts to the children, and in turn were entertained with a dance performance by a group of young refugees.
Far from home, the refugees face hardship and prejudice. “We are automatically associated with bad things – crime, delinquency, drug trafficking – but people never think of us as victims of the conflict,” said one of the performers, speaking to Jolie and Pitt after the performance, according to a UNHCR statement in English on Tuesday.
“They never think, maybe this person, this refugee, had to leave everything behind to come here.”
Jolie was troubled by what she heard, and says that there is a need for greater tolerance and solidarity toward refugees around the world.
“It’s been sad for me to hear so many negative stories that show confusion between refugees, who are the victims of the conflict, and some criminal elements,” she said.
“It is especially shocking that such a tragedy can go on, year after year, with the rest of the world paying so little attention to it,” said Jolie.
The UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency – works closely with the government of Costa Rica to protect refugees and help their integration.
Copyright © 2006 Look to the Stars