Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Angelina's Christmas cheer

Actress Angelina Jolie has spent Christmas Day with mainly Colombian refugees in San Jose, Costa Rica, as part of her work as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Jolie arrived in Costa Rica today and was to visit a group of refugee children and families and to meet Costa Rican officials, UNHCR said in a statement.

There are about 11,500 refugees in the Central American country, most of whom fled Colombia because of the conflict there between leftist guerrillas, soldiers and paramilitary forces.

"The conflict in Colombia is the greatest humanitarian tragedy in the Western Hemisphere, but it receives very little international attention," the Oscar-winning actress said after she arrived in San Jose.

"My Christmas message to Colombian refugees and to the millions of displaced people in Colombia is that the world has not totally forgotten them."

An estimated three million Colombians have been forced from their homes by more than two decades of armed conflict, and most are internally displaced, essentially refugees in their own country.

Another 500,000 have fled to other countries in the region. Together, the press statement said, they make up the largest single population of concern to UNHCR anywhere in the world.

Jolie will visit several small businesses set up by refugees in San Jose with help from micro-loans from the UN agency.

She also called for greater acceptance of refugees, who are often stigmatised.

"The best present we can give refugees is often a little more understanding and good will, not just at Christmas but all year long," she said.

UNHCR said it was Jolie's second trip to the region since she became a goodwill ambassador for the refugee agency in 2001, noting that she went to Ecuador in 2002 and later wrote a personal journal of her meetings with Colombian refugees.