Angelina Jolie: On World Refugee Day, Let’s Commit To Finding a Better Way

EEach day in Ukraine, at least two children are killed and four are wounded in fighting. Nearly two-thirds (or more) of the children of Ukraine have been forced to flee after 100 days of conflict.

Children are more vulnerable to conflict than ever before. There is also trauma. Trauma can include physical injuries, such as the effects of displacement and nights of listening to the bombardment. Trauma can stop you dreaming. Dreaming is what propels life forward, not just the reality of nightmares. Think about what you might make. How might things improve? What we may love. Trauma is a destructive force that destroys the potential of the child.

The reality of war and its impact on our lives is more apparent than ever. Even though we are more aware of war’s impact on children, it seems that the threat to them is growing. More conflicts are raging now than ever since the Second World War. One in every six children worldwide—426 million—lives in a conflict zone.

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The conflict in Ukraine has taken the number of displaced people worldwide past 100 million—higher than ever before recorded. More than one in every hundred people worldwide is displaced, as a refugee, asylum seeker, or within their own country—beyond the population of the UK, or France, or Germany. Perhaps 40 million of these 100 million refugees are children who have been forced to leave their families and communities. The future seems grim for them.

It is important to acknowledge that the systems we have in place for protecting human rights and preventing mass conflict aren’t working. Three-quarters (75%) of refugee families live in difficult situations. They cannot return to the country they came from because the issues that caused them to flee continue. Aid relief is now stretched so thin that the World Food Programme has said that in Yemen, “we have no choice but to take food from the hungry to feed the starving and…in a few weeks we risk not even being able to feed the starving.” In Afghanistan, NGOs fear that hunger may kill more people than the last twenty years of war. The US National Intelligence Council has warned that refugee rights are among “the norms at the highest risk of weakening globally in the next decade,” meaning that, unless we act, there will be even less agreement about how to protect refugees.

There is no way to wait for crises to recede or international leaders to come on board before asking for changes. As such, aid relief should be temporary and not discriminatory. Diplomacy and agreements allowing for the safe return of refugees and displacement people to their homes after conflict resolutions are expected to make it possible. Consistently applying human rights standards is expected. We see many examples where refugees are discriminated against based on their origin country, skin color or religion. The world’s poorest countries host millions of refugees for decades without an end in sight, while the richest devise ever more elaborate ways of closing their borders and ‘off-shoring’ asylum seekers.

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Recognize the challenges of reducing global refugee numbers. Understanding the suffering and pain of those in such situations is essential. We must also recognize the fact that many of us still live in outdated ways and continue to use old behaviours. Our institutions have not been adapted to the changing world.

The way that the United Nations was established is biased in favor of power nations, at the expense and dignity of people who are most affected by conflict and persecution and whose lives and rights aren’t respected equally. The work of international organisations has been the primary focus for decades. There’s been not enough attention on listening to local groups and volunteers, and strengthening their efforts.

I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I am with all those who are searching for a new way. A lot of the strength I see at this time comes from the individual people in countries affected by conflict, like Ukraine—and from local organizations, volunteers and refugees themselves—who are not waiting to be helped but are supporting each other. I trust and believe in these people until the world has the strength to rebuild its international institutions and fulfill the promise that all will be protected and have equal rights.

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