A day-long programming strand across the BBC on Monday examined the big picture of migration and compared today’s movements of people with historic displacement.
UNHCR special envoy Angelina Jolie Pitt was interviewed by journalist Mishal Husain.
“Over sixty million people are displaced today, more than at any time in the last 70 years – that is one in every 122 people. This tells us something deeply worrying about the peace and security of the world.”
“It says that for all our other advances, this type of human insecurity is growing faster than our ability to prevent or reverse it. The international humanitarian system is supposed to work on the basis that refugees will be protected, largely in camps, where they can be given basic food, shelter and education, as a temporary measure until they are able to return to their homes.”
She suggested that “we are seeing [the normal model of asylum] break down, not because the model is flawed, or because refugees are behaving differently, but because the number of conflicts and scale of displacement have grown so large.”
“In the past six years, 15 conflicts have erupted or re-ignited. The average time a person will be displaced is now nearly 20 years. The number of refugees returning to their homes is the lowest it has been in three decades. Africa has more people displaced than ever before.”
While Europe has been the focus of media attention over refugee migration, the continent is ”only a fraction of the global refugee problem … We in the West are neither at the centre of the refugee crisis, nor – for the most part – the ones making the greatest sacrifice.”
Asked about UNHCR funding, the organisation’s special envoy stated: “at UNHCR we always want to say we have enough and we’re doing our best, but really we’re been underfunded for far too long”.
She characterised some political policy on migration in response to the refugee crisis as “race to the bottom” with countries competing to be the toughest on immigration.
Asked by Labour MP Yvette Cooper about protection for child refugees, Angelina Jolie Pitt replied:
“More than half of the refugees are women and children; half of these children are out of school. Many children have faced abuse or trauma, she says, and we need to ensure they have enough support.
“We have to look at the ways they are being held. Unaccompanied children are also a serious concern, and trying to keep families together or ensuring children are accompanied by an adult or a sibling, rather than being left open to trafficking, is important.”
The speech and comments from the actress and humanitarian advocate were not universally appreciated, with some UK newspaper columnists contrasting her own personal circumstances with her public posturing and wondering whether she was “cast as the leading lady in a political campaign to Remain”.