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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 April, 2004, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
Ask actress Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie with Chechen refugees
Jolie's UNHCR role has taken her to refugee camps throughout the world
Actress and campaigner Angelina Jolie is a goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

Her humanitarian work has taken her to refugee camps in Russia, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

The Oscar-winning actress has urged governments to do more to help refugees and has campaigned extensively for the UN refugee agency.

What more does she think can be done to aid refugees worldwide? What are the worst affected areas she has visited? What has made the biggest impression on her in her role as goodwill ambassador?

Angelina Jolie answered a selection of your questions via e-mail. Her responses appear below. You also put your questions to her on our global phone-in programme Talking Point on 20 June 2004.

Nadil Sanghar, Mombasa, Kenya:
What was the deciding factor for you to take on an active role in assisting refugees?

Angelina Jolie:
The deciding factor was having spent time with refugee families. They continue to inspire and teach me. They are amazing survivors.

Emiko Harada, Singapore:
Why did you choose to help out the UN's refugee agency when there are so many other UN agencies and causes to support?

Angelina Jolie:
I sat up a few nights reading everything I could about the different aid groups and projects. I was shocked when I read about 20 million people under the care of UNHCR and how they are the most vulnerable people in the world. I felt refugees were something I should have known about. I was then determined to tell others about it.

Maria Saldanha, Rome, Italy:
How has being a goodwill ambassador for UNHCR changed your life?

Angelina Jolie:
It has given me a life filled with purpose. Who are we if we are not useful to others?

Gibril Njie, Glasgow, Scotland:
What should be done by both the countries where refugees hail from and of course the richer and powerful nations to avoid people becoming refugees?

Angelina Jolie:
In countries where people have to flee their homes because of persecution and violence, political solutions must be found, peace and tolerance restored, so that refugees can return home. In my experience, going home is the deepest wish of most refugees.

Rich and powerful nations need to be more fully invested in finding solutions for refugees, both through financial support for refugee operations and by placing solutions for refugees higher on the international political agenda. The rich nations could also do more, faster, to seize development opportunities to make sure that fragile solutions and peace are sustained in places like Afghanistan.

Chris Prior, Wellington, New Zealand:
Has the worldwide refugee problem improved in the last 10 years?

Angelina Jolie:
In terms of numbers, yes. In 1992 there were 18 million refugees and today there are about 10 million refugees in various parts of the world. In addition there are tens of millions of people displaced within their own countries because of persecution, violence, and war.

Statistics tell only part of the story - behind the figures are families struggling to survive on minimal assistance
There are also thousands of others who have recently returned home who need help in rebuilding their communities. There is still a huge job to do in finding lasting solutions for vulnerable families. Statistics tell only part of the story. Behind the figures are families struggling to survive on minimal assistance.

This will be the case until solutions are found. In some countries, conflicts have been resolved, refugees have gone home, solutions have been found. But new crises keep erupting, creating new refugee populations. And some refugee situations have simply continued for years with no resolution in sight. All those lives in suspension, for years and years.

Duane Quek, Singapore:
What was your initial reaction when you first visited a refugee camp?

Stella Pahinis, Barcelona, Spain:
What is the most difficult part when you first visit a camp? How do the refugees react towards you?

Angelina Jolie:
When they come to you with desperate eyes and pleading hands and express all they have lost. They tell you their fears and concerns for their children. The most difficult part is not having a solution and for them to feel helpless.

Prakash, Geneva, Switzerland:
What is the biggest problem faced by refugees and how do you believe it should be addressed?

Angelina Jolie:
The biggest problem could be the hostility, negative stereotyping, misperception and in some cases, downright racism faced by refugees. The mistaken negative perceptions about refugees often result in a cascade of concrete problems for them including anti-refugee legislation, abuse of refugees' human rights, severe drops in donations for refugee operations, and even brutal behaviour toward them.

Rob Poole, Lund, Sweden:
I have often felt that the voices of those representing refugees go unheard in the din of international politics. Do you believe this is changing? What has been your biggest frustration?

Angelina Jolie:
This is linked to the previous question. A lot of people hold negative views about refugees without bothering to know the facts. It seems that increasingly, in some countries, being tough with refugees and asylum seekers has become part of the political game. In some places it's an election issue and in all the noise the refugee situation becomes distorted, and those of us trying to talk about the realities are drowned out.

Lorik, Mitrovica, Kosovo:
Are political solutions the only way to solve refugee problems?

Angelina Jolie:
At the end of the day, yes. Without political solutions, on some level, the problems that created refugees like persecution and war, continue to rage. Even if military intervention makes a difference in some situations, it still has to be followed up with a political solution.

Negative stereotyping, hatred and violence can be fought by spreading awareness
Some element of political change and agreement is always required, at whatever level - community, state, international - before refugees can feel safe to go home or other solutions can be found. But other refugee problems, like negative stereotyping, hatred and violence can be fought by spreading awareness.

Andre Muberangabo, Quebec, Canada:
I'm a Rwandan who grew up in a refugee camp in Burundi. The UNHCR enabled me to go to school. Do you encourage refugees you meet to return home if it's possible?

Angelina Jolie:
In many cases it is not safe to return home. But of course, when it is, I believe the future of your country and your people need you. So yes, I encourage many people to go home.

Diep Nguyen Thi, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam:
Do you think your work brings concrete success or is it only symbolic?

Angelina Jolie:
Fortunately I have seen concrete success. For example I was very vocal about a particular camp that was going to be closed, forcing many people back into danger. I fought with others and it was not closed. In other cases I have seen schools, homes and wells built that I funded. But the most rewarding aspect are the letters I receive from young people from around the world who want to tell me they are joining the fight to help others, and that they will educate themselves and do what they can. They give me more hope for our future.

Muhammed, Iraq:
Are you planning to visit Iraq?

Angelina Jolie:
I tend to go to areas that need attention - forgotten emergencies. So I don't feel I can be useful there at the moment. My next trip will be to the border of the Sudan.

Shakir Wakil, Kabul, Afghanistan:
Will you visit Afghanistan?

Angelina Jolie:
Yes, I feel the media has shifted focus to Iraq and I want us all not to forget the promises made. The needs of the people of Afghanistan and the long commitment to help properly rebuild the country should be met.

Nirmala, Nepal:
What do you think can be done about the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, where the government hasn't been able to look after its own people?

Angelina Jolie:
I haven't been there. I don't have the necessary background to comment on this complex situation, but will be looking into it.

James Clarke, Kigoma, Tanzania:
You expressed dismay over the food shortages faced by refugees at the Lugufu camp in Tanzania. What do you think should be done, so that these refugees, many of whom have suffered so much already, get enough food?

Angelina Jolie:
It's a simple equation - when funding runs out, food rations are cut. Refugee operations are under-supported by the international community and refugees are not a popular cause with private donors either. So sometimes refugees have to go without essentials like enough food, clean water, shelter from the elements, not to even mention things like healthcare and education. Part of my job as goodwill ambassador is to draw attention to the many hidden refugee emergencies, and human tragedies that you will not find in the headlines.

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