Cate Blanchett calls for focus on education, refugee experience at forum


  • World
  • Monday, 11 Dec 2023

FILE PHOTO: UNHCR goodwill ambassador Cate Blanchett reacts during her visit to a TIGER workshop in the community centre in District 2 of Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan, April 25, 2023. UNHCR/Caroline Irby/Handout via REUTERS/ FILE PHOTO

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Education for refugees, supporting host countries and hearing personal accounts of those forced to flee their homes should be the focus of the second Global Refugee Forum this week, says UNHCR goodwill ambassador Cate Blanchett.

Politicians, diplomats, charities, businesses and refugees meet in Geneva Dec. 13-15 for what the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) calls the world’s largest international gathering on refugees. It is held every four years.

Joining them will be Blanchett, who travelled to Jordan, Niger and South Sudan this year as part of her humanitarian role.

“It's important to focus on the education quadrant and really supporting host communities," Blanchett told Reuters.

“The other thing is that the (United Nations') Sustainable Development Goals have been acknowledged that they will fail unless refugees are at the heart of (them) so I think it will be really important for people to hear the voices of refugees themselves about what they need and how they can be part of the solutions."

Conflicts, poverty and climate change have driven a record 114 million people from their homes around the world, the UNHCR said in October, while Western governments are under growing domestic pressure to get tougher on asylum seekers, with some considering schemes to deport them.

“There are overlapping reasons why people move and so we need to ... find places where we have sophisticated adult conversations that are compassionate and humane," Blanchett said.

"We can't discuss this nor solve this in soundbites. And then by pushing people to Albania, to Rwanda, to Manus, to Nauru, it only creates yet another set of problems."

Blanchett, a two-time Oscar winning actor, was named a UNHCR goodwill ambassador in 2016, a role including advocacy, fundraising and meeting refugees in different countries.

This year, she returned with UNHCR to Jordan, which hosts some more than 600,000 Syrian refugees, after visiting seven years ago. She travelled to Niger and South Sudan, and joined UNHCR’s High Commissioner Filippo Grandi to meet Congress members in Washington.

Last month, she addressed the EU parliament in Brussels, urging the EU to step up support of refugees and host countries.

“I do think that Europe has had a history of being incredibly supportive to host countries who are near the point of conflict and departure," Blanchett told Reuters.

"But if you make that investment and you don't make good on that investment, then that is money wasted."

This week's forum is expected to result in more pledges from states and civil society in areas such as education, labour market access, climate change mitigation and resettlement. Some heads of state and other senior politicians are due to attend alongside development and faith groups as well as refugees.

In 2020, Blanchett starred in and produced drama "Stateless", which looked at asylum and detention.

“Works of art, films ... provide a platform, an opportunity and a coming together to talk about things that are really difficult to talk about," Blanchett said.

"Not necessarily to find an answer but to keep the dialogue alive."

(Reporting by Johnny Cotton; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Alison Williams)

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