Jolie Makes Goodwill Visit to Thai Refugee Camp
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Jolie Makes Goodwill Visit to Thai Refugee Camp

By LAWI WENG Friday, February 6, 2009

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie shares a laugh with Karenni refugee children in Ban Mai Nai Soi camp in northern Thailand during one-day visit on Wednesday. (Photo: UNHCR)

Actress Angelina Jolie visited the Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp, located just 2 km from the Burmese border in Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province, on Wednesday in her capacity as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The trip was her second to the camp since 2004, and her third to Thailand as an official emissary for the UN’s refugee agency.

“She was very touched by the people she met there, so she wanted to see the camp again,” said Kitty McKinsey, the UNHCR regional representative for Asia, explaining why Jolie choose to return to Ban Mai Nai Soi.

Ban Mai Nai Soi is home to around 20,000 registered refugees from neighboring Burma, and is one of 10 camps officially established on Thai soil. The site has been attacked by Burmese forces on several occasions since it was formed in 1996 from several smaller camps. Most of its inhabitants are ethnic Karenni.

McKinsey, who accompanied Jolie during her visit, said the Oscar-winning actress spent several hours moving freely through the camp, listening to people talk about their lives there and taking notes. “You can see from her face … that she is extremely interested in their lives,” said Mckinsey.

Jolie seemed especially moved by the story of a 21-year-old Karenni woman who told her that she has spent her entire life in a camp, and that her two children were also born in the same highly confined environment.

McKisey said that Jolie, who appealed to the Thai authorities to allow the refugees to work and make a contribution to the Thai economy, was “very touched and saddened by hearing about people who have no freedom of movement.”

Another woman, a 34-year-old mother of four who has applied for resettlement in the US, asked Jolie if she had any children. The woman was surprised to learn that the 33-yeear-old actress has six children, including three she adopted.

Jolie’s visit came amid growing concerns about the plight of hundreds of Rohingya boat people who were reportedly abused by the Thai authorities for attempting to enter the country illegally.

According to media reports, several hundred Rohingya men may have died at sea after they were towed into international waters by the Thai navy, which was also accused of beating them and sabotaging the boats they were using to flee Burma’s western Arakan State.

Although Jolie did not visit any of the Rohingya now in the custody of Thai immigration officials, she expressed strong concern about their situation, according to McKinsey.

“She was very, very concerned about the plight of the Rohingya people. She asked a lot of questions and she wanted to be briefed on the UNHCR’s visits to the 78 Rohingya boat people in Ranong,” said McKinsey, who was granted access to the detained Rohingya last weekend.

“She said visiting Ban Mai Nai Soi and seeing how hospitable Thailand has been to more than a hundred thousand mostly Karen and Karenni refugees over the years made her hope that Thailand would be just as generous to the Rohingya refugees,” Mckinsey added.

“She said that as with all people, the Rohingya deserve to have their rights respected.”

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