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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 June, 2004, 18:23 GMT 19:23 UK
World Refugee Day: Ask Angelina Jolie
UNHCR goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie
We discussed the plight of refugees around the world with UNHCR goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie on our global phone-in programme, Talking Point.

People from all over the world are gathering in Barcelona to commemorate World Refugee Day.

Among them will be UNHCR goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie, whose humanitarian work has taken her to refugee camps in Russia, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

The total figure includes 9.7m people who have sought refuge abroad and who are officially described as refugees.

Human rights campaigners claim that the Geneva Convention on Refugees does not address the realities of modern conflicts, where millions are being displaced within their own countries.

But some governments say the convention is being abused by economic migrants, seeking a better life in rich countries.

Have you ever been a refugee? Do you think it is time to change the rules governing asylum?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your e-mails. The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received:

I was brought to Estonia by my parents when I was 3 years old in the seventies during the Soviet era. Since then, I have known Estonia as my home. After Estonia became a separate state in the beginning of nineties, about 40% of the population were not given any rights or citizenship. They have been since then pushed out of the country under any possible pretext and excuse and have not been allowed back in, even though holding correct documents issued by the Estonian Government.
I am no drain on social systems, but a well to do person, but still, I have been forcefully excluded from my own home. Same is the fate of many more who find themselves in similar circumstances. Countries like Estonia should be taken to task by EU/UN authorities to first resolve these issues. Estonia is creating refugees out of perfectly normal people... a kind of ethnic cleansing in other words! Can Angelina comment on this?
N Pandey, Denmark

Civilian always suffer no matter what the conflict is all about. They are either caught in the crossfire, or become refugees. That does not necessarily mean they are safe. More times than not they are always abused and their rights denied. I don't think that changing the regulations for refugees is actually a solution, since the original guidelines have rarely been followed. What is needed is a broad change in human behaviour towards refugees, who are our fellow human beings.
Syed Asheque Hossain, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Here in the UK, the media has spun the immigration and refugee issue in a negative light. It concentrates on the "numbers" of legal and illegal asylum seekers, and the ease at which they gain entry into our country, rather than the plight of the refugee. This is not only a problem in the UK but it is endemic throughout the EU. I would like to know what power organisations, such as the UN, have to influence Western governments over the acceptance of their inherent responsibility of offering asylum, regardless of mass domestic opinion?
Alex Tresilian, London, UK

We must reach out to our displaced neighbours as we would want them to reach out to us
Carolyn Manning, Scottsdale, USA
I became much more aware of the refugee cause after my brother-in-law was killed in the World Trade Center Tower I on September 11th, 2001. A few weeks after we lost Terence, I saw a picture of a refugee family on the front of our local paper. They were from Afghanistan.

Instead of thinking of all the differences that our two families had, I saw only the similarity of pain that both our families felt. We had both lost love ones to the same evil.
We both wanted the same things - safety, housing, family, and a future. I set out to take up a collection for this family and since then I have helped many families in my area who are newly arriving refugee families. My group is called The Welcome to America Project. The way I see it, we are a world neighbourhood now and we must reach out to our displaced neighbours as we would want them to reach out to us.
Carolyn Manning, Scottsdale, USA

As much as I appreciate being resettled in Australia from having been a refugee, I fully agree with Jerath from Atlanta USA. That being described by the word refugee is the most degrading thing I bet someone would never ever want to be called a refugee when you know you have where to call home. While I was attending a launch of World Refugee Day today in Australian parliament house I fell into tears seeing clips of those still trapped in the most appalling state of refuge in Africa and having been asked what is it that I call home? Please let us stop wars so there will be no refugees.
Alex Taban Donato, Sudanese in ACT/Australia

We often see appeals on TV and the press for the United Nation to do something in a refugee crisis... but when you read the article the UN is the source of the story. I would like to know why does the UN not act when it knows of a crisis? Why does it have to release the information to us (the public) before it feels the pressure to act?
George McBean, Edinburgh

We were beaten, arrested for made-up crimes and had no protection from the authorities
Alie Jalloh, Worcester, United States
I am a Sierraleonean living in the United States and was once a refugee in Guinea, as a refugee in Guinea I, along with other refugees were treated very badly by Guinean security forces. We were beaten, arrested for made-up crimes and had no protection from the authorities and I know that this happens in a lot of African countries. How is the UN dealing with the rights of refugees living in other countries especially African countries, where it seems that this problem is chronic.
Alie Jalloh, Worcester, United States

I find it saddening that people are still prepared to treat refugees as statistics. I volunteered in a refugee camp a few years ago, and it was the personal stories of individuals that really had an effect on me. When we are prepared to view people as just numbers and statistics, and as some sort of parasite trying to drain our countries, we are missing the point. We should see them as individuals who have been through so much suffering that it has left them to abandon their homes and everything familiar, and remember that compassion is just as much of a human instinct as self-preservation. I challenge anybody to spend some time with refugees and still be prepared to dehumanize them in the way that the alarmist media does.
Chris Doughty, Vancouver, Canada (UK originally)

World Refugee Day is a chance for all who care to be vocal about this issue to voice their views. Words are no longer enough. Sanctions against countries that create refugees should be considered.
Ahmad Hmoud, Amman, Jordan

Can anything more be done to pressure developed countries that economic persecution threatens many more lives than bombs - and that economic migration is as much a matter of survival as any other.
Nick Coupland, Edmonton, Alberta

The word refugee is in itself degrading and offensive in that it implies worthless refuse or discard of no value. As long as the world thinks about humans in that term, there is a little chance that displaced people will ever get a good break.
Mohinder L Jerath, Atlanta, USA

We have just altered our constitution making it harder for non-nationals to gain Irish citizenship
Jason Robinson., Dublin, Ireland
It is time for countries to see the bigger picture: the world belongs to all humans and should not be stringently kept to borders and maps. If our fellow man is in trouble, we should give him/her a hand up and not keep them down. In 'my' own country, Ireland, we have just altered our constitution making it harder for non-nationals to gain Irish citizenship. I personally find this very saddening. We were the only EU. country where a child could gain automatic citizenship(and his/her parents) if born here. Unfortunately the right has won over the Irish public, and with it our liberal uniqueness has gone out the window. How quick we have forgotten the great famine.
Jason Robinson., Dublin, Ireland.

The refugees made refugees is a question what world politicians and countries who are behind them to change there attitude and be a bit responsible towards the human tragedies what they create. Its not the refugees who are to be blamed, they are purely victims of world politics.
Mohammad Akram, Ilford

What should be done to segregate and protect the legitimate refugees who are truly in peril due to persecution from economic migrants who look to exploit every loophole in immigration laws and liberal public sentiment swamping nations generous enough to allow people in?
Mark, USA

I would also like to know what inspired her to devote time to this cause
Scarlet, Sacramento, USA
Coming from an Iranian refugee family who has been living in the US for over 15 years, I have always wanted to help other refugees across the world as we were helped when we first migrated to the states. I have initiated helping an organization dedicated to helping out refugees in my city. I truly admire Angelina for taking action in helping the refugees both hands-on and as a vocal advocate. Angelina has been an inspiration to me and has given me the push to take steps to assist the refugee communities. I would like to know what the first step was that Angelina took in her journey that has brought her to become a UNHCR goodwill ambassador. I would also like to know what inspired her to devote time to this cause.
Scarlet, Sacramento, USA

As Angelina Jolie's work has taken her all over the world and viewed some horrible results from some horrible regimes, has this changed her political views or changed her views of others in Hollywood who seem to support these regimes?
Peter, La Marque, Texas

World's tally of refugees falls
17 Jun 04  |  South Asia


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