By Tim Saunders on
She may be known for her various roles on the silver screen that have earned her Golden Globes and an Academy Award, but perhaps Angelina Jolie's greatest role is that which she plays in real life – Global Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. And it is exceedingly clear that the dedication that she shows in her acting is reflected in her work for humanitarian causes around the world.
The 32-year-old actor has just returned from a visit to Iraq, in which she met with top political officials to discuss people displaced by the war.
“There are over two million displaced people and there never seems to be a real coherent plan to help them,” she told CNN on her return. “There’s lots of goodwill and lots of discussion, but there seems to be a lot of talk at the moment and a lot of pieces that need to be put together.”
The trip was a follow-up to her visit to the country six months ago, and marks Jolie’s commitment to displaced persons and refugees in war-ravaged nations, and confirms her dedication to implement solutions wherever possible.
“Of the two million internally displaced, it’s estimated 58 percent are under 12 years old. It’s a very high number of people in a very, very vulnerable situation and a lot of young kids,” said Jolie. “So far, the different US officials I met with and different local people I’ve met with all have shared concerns, very, very strongly. They have spoken out about the humanitarian crisis, but there seems to be a block in.”
Jolie traveled to Baghdad with Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, and met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, and Refugees Minister Abdel Samad Rahman Sultan. As a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, Jolie is well known for using her status as a superstar to generate media coverage about the plight of refugees and the conditions under which they live, and this trip to Iraq proved no different.
“This trip is to get a better picture of the internally displaced people and to discuss [the situation] with the local government, with our government, with the NGOs and with local people,” said Jolie. “I’m not good at policy and fixing all this and saying what’s wrong, but I do know that, for example, U.N.H.C.R. needs to be more active inside Iraq… I know that this is one thing that needs to be addressed and solved because there does need to be a real presence here to help count the people and register the people. Also, the prime minister here needs to empower the government that deals with migration and displacement to be able to address the concerns for these people, and that hasn’t happened in a significant way yet.”
Born in Los Angeles in 1975, Jolie’s acting career has already spanned two decades. Her first feature role was in Lookin’ to Get Out in 1982, a film co-written and co-produced by her father, the acclaimed actor Jon Voight. Since then, she has received Golden Globe Awards for the television movies George Wallace (1997) and Gia (1998), and her film credits include Hackers (1995), The Bone Collector (1999), Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003), and Mr and Mrs Smith (alongside her partner, Brad Pitt, in 2005).
It was while filming the first Tomb Raider movie in Cambodia, a country stricken by poverty, that Jolie began to become aware of humanitarian issues around her. She approached the UNHCR for more information, and was sent to Sierra Leone, a small African country that – like the Democratic Republic of the Congo – had been devastated by years of brutal civil war. Seeing firsthand the enormous challenges that refugees face was a life-altering experience for the actress, and she was named a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in August 2001.
Over the next few years, Jolie witnessed some of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. She visited refugee camps in Tanzania, Pakistan, Thailand, Ecuador, Kosovo, Kenya, and Namibia, covering all of her own costs and insisting on sharing the same living and working conditions as field workers.
Since 2003, Jolie has traveled to refugee camps in Sri Lanka, Russia, Jordan, Beirut, and Egypt, and has also visited detained asylum seekers in Arizona. In 2005 she filmed an MTV special entitled "The Diary of Angelina Jolie and Dr. Jeffrey Sachs in Africa", portraying her trip to a remote group of villages in Kenya, and has visited Chad and Darfur several times since fighting erupted there in 2004.
In recent years, Jolie has been joined by Brad Pitt on many of her trips. In 2005 the pair witnessed the devastation of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake in Pakistan, and in 2006 they visited a school in Haiti supported by Wyclef Jean's Yéle Haiti Foundation.
Also in 2006, the pair founded the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, which made initial donations of $1 million to Doctors Without Borders and Global Action for Children. This was followed by a $100,000 donation to the Daniel Pearl Foundation, another to the Duk Lost Boys Medical Clinic in the Sudan, and $1 million to help refugees in Chad and Darfur.
Angelina Jolie’s generosity seems bottomless, and her heart is clearly as big as her stardom. In 2005, she announced the founding of the National Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Children, an organization that provides free legal aid to asylum-seeking children, and personally funded it with $1 million over 2 years. She also co-chairs the Education Partnership for Children of Conflict, a program established at the 2006 Clinton Global Initiative that has pledged to help with the education of over 1 million children affected by conflict around the world.
Her missions to the most dangerous troublespots in the far-flung corners of the world look set to continue well into the future.
“It’s always hard to see decent people, families, living in such difficult conditions,” she said. “What is most upsetting is how long it is taking the international community to answer this crisis… You go to these places and you realize what life’s really about and what people are really going through. These people are my heroes.”
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