Angelina Jolie visits Thailand

February 6th, 2009 - 4:16 pm ICT by Amrit Rashmisrisethi  

Angelina Jolie UNHCRSince 2001, Jolie had been active and been advocating for the world’s refugees. This time she took her show to Thailand.

Jolie raised her voice on behalf of the even more neglected Rohingya. The UN High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) was recently able to gain access to 78 being detained in southern Thailand who arrived after a dangerous journey through the Andaman Sea.

Thailand recognizes most at the border camps as refugees with legitimate fear of returning to their homeland, but does not accord the Muslim Rohingyas the same status, and seeks to send them away.

Angelina, the ambassador for the UNHCR, was trying to leverage her celebrity status to put the spotlight on refugees from military-ruled Myanmar, including boat-people from that country’s Rohingya minority.

The Rohingya, denied citizenship in their native land, recently drew the world’s attention when boatloads who tried to land in Thailand. Indian officials, who rescued some, believe hundreds perished. Most of the civilians were caught up , during the fighting between Myanmar government troops and ethnic insurgents. Faced with the risks of war, many flee to Thai refugee camps, where they are cooped up for years on end with little chance of resettlement in third countries and scant incentive to return to their homes.

Jolie toured the bamboo huts making up the Ban Mai Nai Soi camp, home to 18,111 mainly ethnic Karenni refugees, just 3km from the Myanmar border, near the northern Thai town of Mae Hong Son. There are between 116,000 and 135,000 refugees in total at camps along the border.

Jolie, 33, sat down in a two-room house on stilts and talked with a female refugee. Meeting the orphans at a boarding school and heard from teenage girls worried that they might be sent back to Myanmar.

Jolie asked one 26-year-old woman, Pan Sein, whether she was afraid when she made her perilous journey last year from her home village in Myanmar’s Kayah State.

‘Yes, I was scared,’ Pan Sein replied. ‘It was dangerous to flee, but even more dangerous to stay in my village.’ It can also be dangerous in the camp. Ban Mai Nai Soi was attacked by the Myanmar military in 1996, 1997 and 1998. There was fighting just across the border in 2005, and land mines spot the surrounding area.

‘Visiting Ban Mai Nai Soi and seeing how hospitable Thailand has been to 111,000 mostly Karen and Karenni refugees over the years makes me hope that Thailand will be just as generous to the Rohingya refugees who are now arriving on their shores,’ Jolie said.

‘I also hope the Rohingya situation stabilises and their life in Myanmar improves so the people do not feel the desperate need to flee, especially considering how dangerous their journey has become,’ she added. ‘As with all people, they deserve to have their human rights respected.’ Other Rohingya boat people have turned up in Indonesia. Thailand has proposed a regional consultation to come up with a solution to their plight.

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