Australian actress Cate Blanchett spoke to MEPs in Brussels on Thursday. Before the plenary session, she described her experiences and observations about the plight of refugees and stateless people around the world. “Walls or barbed wire are not the solution, they don’t want to take your job or undermine culture,” said the two-time Oscar winner.
From our reporter – “I am not Syrian or Ukrainian. I am not from Israel or Palestine. I am not a politician or a scholar. But I am a witness,” said Blanchett, who is a goodwill ambassador for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. While visiting refugees, she says she has witnessed the toll war and persecution take on human lives around the world, and she can’t look away.
The actress recalled the conflict between Israel and Palestine. “The conflict claimed – and will continue to claim – thousands of innocent lives. Earlier this week, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees – together with several humanitarian organizations – called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire,” she reminded, and massive applause was then heard in the hall.
The situation in Israel and Gaza is one of the topics of the plenary session of the European Parliament this week. However, the actress added that it is far from the only violence in the world, even though this conflict has filled the media headlines in recent weeks.
“The war is raging in Ukraine, in Sudan, we know about the violence in Ethiopia or Afghanistan and many others. In each case, innocent people are suffering and innocent people have to run for their lives,” continued Blanchett.
At the end of this September, 114 million people around the world were forced to live outside their homes due to conflict, persecution and human rights violations, according to the UN refugee agency. When moved to a safe haven, many of them became unwanted or despised, according to Blanchett.
“Of these 114 million, 62.5 million are internally displaced within their own countries. Of the 36.4 million who were forced to leave their countries, 69 percent remain in neighboring countries such as Bangladesh, South Sudan or Lebanon,” the actress continued . In that context, she called for the destruction of the myth that every refugee is heading to Europe. “They want to return home – to their people, to their country,” she added. She continued that refugees are not running to take someone’s job or undermine someone’s culture.
Barbed wire is not the answer
Blanchett subsequently criticized that Europe does not measure all refugees equally. “In some cases, we immediately see that running away from home is inevitable and instinctively feel an obligation to help. In others, perhaps because we know little about the violence or human rights abuses happening far away, we are suspicious,” she explained.
The right to seek asylum and the granting of asylum without discrimination was central to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the actress noted. She also recalled the Refugee Convention of 1951, which also includes the right.
Blanchett went on to describe the feelings of the refugees she met in her work as a goodwill ambassador. “In Niger, I met a young man – let’s call him Ibrahim – who was forced to flee Darfur. To avoid conscription by militias or certain death, he found his way to Libya. There he was enslaved, beaten and repeatedly raped. Alone and deeply traumatized, he he tried seven times to go by boat to Europe. He told me he took his chance because drowning at sea was a better option than a disastrous experience in Africa,” she described.
According to Blanchett, complex situations require complex solutions and cooperation – not buzzwords and slogans. “If you can imagine your own sons and daughters in the same situation, then maybe you will understand that walls or barbed wire are not the answer,” she added.
According to her, the only way is to find sustainable measures in the countries of origin, transit and destination. “Remember the forces that move people like Ibrahim and ensure that EU policy focuses on protecting them, not on fortifying borders,” she said.
Then she also called on European leaders to remind their constituents that low- and middle-income countries host almost 90 percent of all forcibly displaced people. “Where coordinated responses to mixed migration to Europe are needed, explain the importance of safe and legal routes and invest in more effective systems to fairly determine who has a legitimate right to stay and who does not,” Blanchett concluded.
In the past, the European Parliament has also hosted other well-known personalities who were invited as ambassadors of goodwill as part of specific campaigns. In 2018, for example, U2 frontman Bono visited him as a co-founder of the One campaign, which raises awareness of extreme poverty and disease, especially in Africa.