Can Angelina Jolie Pitt Solve the Refugee Crisis?

Probably not. But she may certainly help. Here’s how.

Angelina Jolie Pitt, who is a special envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, is visiting refugees in Greece today, and in so doing is calling attention to the shameful European policies that are undermining the health and welfare of families fleeing violence in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The situation in Greece right now is completely untenable. For several weeks, the Balkan countries that surround Greece’s northern frontier have shut down their borders to migrants. Meanwhile, the number of refugees who are arriving in Greece has not slowed down in any meaningful way. The UN Refugee Agency estimates that some 40,000 people have arrived in Greece in the last few weeks alone, mostly via a treacherous boat trip from Turkey. These refugees don’t want to stay in Greece. They want to move north, to Germany and Scandinavia. To get there, they need to pass through the Balkans.

View of a makeshift camp near the village of Idomeni on the Greek - FYR of Macedonia border where thousands of refugees, mainly from Iraq and Syria, are stranded © UNHCR/Achilleas Zavallis
View of a makeshift camp near the village of Idomeni on the Greek – FYR of Macedonia border where thousands of refugees, mainly from Iraq and Syria, are stranded
© UNHCR/Achilleas Zavallis

This is leading to families who are either stranded in a camp along the Macedonian border, living in a city square in Athens, or in some cases, taking matters into their own hands and crossing this dangerous, freezing river while clutching terrified toddlers.

As the number of refugees in Greece continues to build up, some European politicians are working on a disastrous plan that would essentially bribe Turkey into accepting the forcible return of refugees who already made it to Europe. This plan is an affront to international human rights law which generally stipulates that individual claims of asylum must be adjudicated before any forcible transfer can occur. Needless to say, the mass expulsion of entire populations based solely on nationality is definitely not kosher.  A succession of UN have condemned this plan, but their warnings have mostly gone un-noticed.

“I am deeply concerned about the proposals on the table because they involve mass expulsions of migrants without proper individual assessments and asylum procedures in direct contravention of international and European human rights laws which uphold the principle of non-refoulement,”  United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants François Crépeau said in a statement today. “Making Turkey the gatekeeper does not absolve Europe from its responsibility of welcoming migrants. The only way for Europe to secure its borders is to offer safe and regular channels for mobility,” he said.

Can She Stop a Terrible Plan?

Tomorrow, 28 European countries are holding a “Migration Summit” to discuss the plan.

It’s here that Jolie-Pitt can make a real political difference and help scuttle this deal. Unlike, say, a statement from a well meaning United Nations Special Rapporteur, the media tends to pay attention to Angelina Jolie Pitt.  Her

In a press release this morning, the UN Refugee Agency makes clear that her first visit to Greece as a UNHCR special envoy “comes on the eve of a critical meeting between European Union Member States and the Government of Turkey that will potentially affect thousands of refugees and asylum seekers in Greece.”

So, that is the context into which Angelina Jolie is visiting Greece today.  She alone can’t solve the solve the refugee crisis. But she can certainly help stoke the kind of public outrage to prevent the EU from undertaking a disasterous decision that would make the lives of stranded refugees even more miserable.