Special Envoy of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees

Many know Angelina Jolie as an Academy Award winning actor. She is the mother of 6 adopted children. But her work in recent years is as the Special Envoy of he U.N. Commissioner for Refugees. She has published a number of insightful articles related to refugees and immigration policy.

Refugees are men, women and children caught in the fury of war, or the cross hairs of persecution. Far from being terrorists, they are often the victims of terrorism themselves.

Furthermore, only the most vulnerable people are put forward for resettlement in the first place: survivors of torture, and women and children at risk or who might not survive without urgent, specialized medical assistance. I have visited countless camps and cities where hundreds of thousands of refugees are barely surviving and every family has suffered. When the United Nations Refugee Agency identifies those among them who are most in need of protection, we can be sure that they deserve the safety, shelter and fresh start that countries like ours can offer.

And in fact only a minuscule fraction — less than 1 percent — of all refugees in the world are ever resettled in the United States or any other country. There are more than 65 million refugees and displaced people worldwide. Nine out of 10 refugees live in poor and middle-income countries, not in rich Western nations. There are 2.8 million Syrian refugees in Turkey alone. Only about 18,000 Syrians have been resettled in America since 2011.

The lesson of the years we have spent fighting terrorism since Sept. 11 is that every time we depart from our values we worsen the very problem we are trying to contain. We must never allow our values to become the collateral damage of a search for greater security. Shutting our door to refugees or discriminating among them is not our way, and does not make us safer. Acting out of fear is not our way. Targeting the weakest does not show strength.

Angelina Jolie: Refugee Policy Should Be Based on Facts, Not Fear, By Angelina Jolie, The New York Times, Feb. 2, 2017

In the June 19, 2019, article in Time, she talks about what we owe refugees.

At the first sign of armed conflict or persecution, the natural human response is to try to take your children out of harm’s way. Threatened by bombs, mass rape or murder squads, people gather the little they can carry and seek safety. Refugees are people who’ve chosen to leave a conflict. They pull themselves and their families through war, and often help rebuild their countries. These are qualities to be admired.

Today the distinction between refugees and migrants has been blurred and politicized. Refugees have been forced to flee their country because of persecution, war or violence. Migrants have chosen to move, mainly to improve their lives. Some leaders deliberately use the terms refugee and migrant interchangeably, using hostile rhetoric that whips up fear against all outsiders.

What We Owe Refugees by Angelina Jolie, TIME, June 19, 2019

Yesterday TIME published her article “The Crisis We Face at the Border Does Not Require Us to Choose Between Security and Humanity.”

At times I wonder if we are retreating from the ideal of America as a country founded by and for brave, bold, freedom-seeking rebels, and becoming instead inward-looking and fearful.

I suspect many of us will refuse to retreat. We grew up in this beautiful, free country, in all its diversity. We know nothing good ever came of fear, and that our own history — including the shameful mistreatment of Native Americans — should incline us to humility and respect when considering the question of migration.

The first is that this is about more than just one border. Unless we address the factors forcing people to move, from war to economic desperation to climate change, we will face ever-growing human displacement. If you don’t address these problems at their source, you will always have people at your borders. People fleeing out of desperation will brave any obstacle in front of them.

Second, countries producing the migration or refugee flow have the greatest responsibility to take measures to protect their citizens and address the insecurity, corruption and violence causing people to flee. But assisting them with that task is in our interest. Former senior military figures urge the restoration of U.S. aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, arguing that helping to build the rule of law, respect for human rights and stability is the only way to create alternatives to migration. The UN Refugee Agency is calling for an urgent summit of governments in the Americas to address the displacement crisis. These seem logical, overdue steps. Our development assistance to other countries is not a bargaining chip, it is an investment in our long-term security. Showing leadership and working with other countries is a measure of strength, not a sign of weakness.

Third, we have a vital interest in upholding international laws and standards on asylum and protection. It is troubling to see our country backing away from these, while expecting other countries, who are hosting millions of refugees and asylum seekers, to adhere to a stricter code.

Fourth, the legal experts I meet suggest there are ways of making the immigration system function much more effectively, fairly and humanely. For instance, by resourcing the immigration courts to address the enormous backlog of cases built up over years. They argue this would help enable prompt determination of who legally qualifies for protection and who does not, and at the same time disincentivize anyone inclined to misuse the asylum system for economic or other reasons. The American Bar Association and other legal scholars and associations are calling for immigration court to be made independent and free from external influence, so that cases can be fairly, efficiently and impartially decided under the law.

The Crisis We Face at the Border Does Not Require Us to Choose Between Security and Humanity by Angelina Jolie, TIME, July 31, 2019.

Photos by Rezadad Mohammadi and Jeff Kisling. Permission granted for photo of children.

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