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UN: Jolie Hands Out Xmas Gifts To Refugees

UN Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie Hands Out Xmas Gifts To Colombian Refugees

New York, Dec 26 2006 12:00PM

United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie and fellow actor Brad Pitt spent Christmas in Costa Rica handing out presents to Colombian refugee children and their families while spotlighting the plight of those who have been forced to flee conflict in the South American country.

Costa Rica is home to 10,000 victims of Colombia’s conflict, a tiny fraction of the 3 million people that have been displaced internally and 500,000 others who have fled their homeland during more than four decades of fighting between Government forces, leftist guerrillas, rightist paramilitaries and criminal gangs.

“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,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ambassador Jolie said. “My Christmas message to Colombian refugees and to the millions of displaced people in Colombia is that the world has not totally forgotten them.”

The Colombian internally displaced and refugees make up the largest single population of concern to UNHCR anywhere in the world. It is the Western Hemisphere’s biggest humanitarian tragedy.

“It’s great what you have done with your shop,” Ms. Jolie told a 29-year old refugee who had made a cake for his special guests at his bakery in San Jose, the capital. “I’m glad the micro-credit helped you,” she added, referring to the small loan that enabled him to open his shop in a scheme arranged through UNHCR.

After handing out presents, Ms. Jolie and Mr. Pitt watched a group of young refugees perform a dance routine to traditional – and not so traditional – Colombian music, then chatted with the performers and heard about the problems they face. Costa Rica has a long humanitarian tradition, but across the region Colombian refugees increasingly are being stigmatized for the very violence from which they fled.

“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,” Ms. Jolie said, adding that there was a need for greater tolerance and solidarity toward refugees around the world.

UNHCR works closely with the government of Costa Rica to protect refugees and help their integration. “We have been concerned about the country’s current migration law and its implications for refugees and we are pleased the Government is now reforming it and is willing to re-establish a separate Refugee Department,” the agency’s country representative Jozef Merkx said.

It was Ms. Jolie’s first visit to the region for UNHCR since she went to Ecuador in 2002, a year after she became Goodwill Ambassador for the agency. “We had a wonderful Christmas here with the Costa Rican people and refugee families,” she said as she prepared to leave.

ENDS

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