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Angelina Jolie leaves role as United Nations refugee agency envoy after 21 years

Angelina Jolie is ending her decadeslong partnership with the United Nations as its special envoy through the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. She will continue to work with refugees but through local organizations.

Angelina Jolie and the United Nations' refugee agency issued a joint statement on Friday, announcing the actress was stepping down from her role in the organization.

Per the statement, Jolie will be leaving her role as the agency's special envoy "to engage on a broader set of humanitarian and human rights issues."

Jolie also promised to "continue to do everything in my power in the years to come to support refugees and other displaced people," but rather than do it through the U.N., she plans to engage directly with refugees and local organizations. 

"After a long and successful time with UNHCR, I appreciate her desire to shift her engagement and support her decision," said Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "I know the refugee cause will remain close to her heart, and I am certain she will bring the same passion and attention to a wider humanitarian portfolio."


Jolie’s partnership with the U.N. refugee agency started in 2001, and in 2012, she was appointed its special envoy. The statement celebrated Jolie for "carrying out more than 60 field missions to bear witness to stories of suffering as well as hope and resilience."

Last month, the actress and filmmaker hinted at her frustration over the lack of global progress in ending sexual violence in conflict.

"We meet and discuss these horrors and agree that they should never be allowed to happen again. We promise to draw — and to hold — that line. But when it comes to hard choices about how to implement these promises, we run into the same problems time and again," Jolie wrote in an op-ed for The Guardian, specifically calling out U.N. Security Council members for "abusing their veto power."

During a speech in Geneva in 2017, Jolie described the United Nations as being "imperfect," but also defended the international body and the work it does, saying it needs to be supported.

One of the initiatives Jolie wanted the United Nations to implement was a permanent and independent investigative body to look into cases surrounding alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and various other human rights violations.

Jolie told the Associated Press in 2019 that promoting equality for women, fighting injustice and helping refugees are some the most important things in her life, coming in second only to raising her children.

"But in many ways, they go hand in hand," she said. Jolie has been involved in other advocacy efforts, recently pushing for the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act in the U.S.

Jolie was 26 years old when she visited her first refugee camp in 2001. Later that year, she was appointed a UNHCR goodwill ambassador, with the then-high commissioner saying he hoped she would be able to attract the attention of her fans and educate them on the refugee crisis.

Jolie told The Associated Press last year that she has concerns over the increase in displaced people globally, as well as her concern that world governments are not doing enough to address the cause of the issues.

"Compared to when I began working with UNHCR 20 years ago, it seems like governments have largely given up on diplomacy... countries which have the least are doing the most to support the refugees," she told the AP.

Developing countries play host to more than 80% of the world's refugees, according to UNHCR, which also announced in May that the number of displaced people topped 100 million for the first time. Speaking to the AP in August, Grandi praised the European Union's efforts to aid Ukrainian refugees but implored world leaders to remember the other humanitarian crises for which his agency was fundraising.

"The big problem that we have at the moment is that it tends to marginalize all other crises in which people suffer," Grandi said of Russia's war in Ukraine.

There are many categories of "prominent supporters" listed on the UNHCR website, most notably Cate Blanchett, Neil Gaiman and Mahira Khan, who are listed under the goodwill ambassadors tab.

In response to a request for additional comment by The Associated Press, the U.N. agency declined to offer further details, including whether they would appoint another special envoy to replace Jolie.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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