Angelina Jolie visits asylum-seekers in Malta before departing for Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joins UNHCR chief António Guterres on Italy’s Lampedusa Island.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited centres for asylum-seekers in Malta on Sunday morning.

Accompanied by UNHCR staff and government officials she met with women and couples currently held at the Lyster Barracks detention centre. She also made a stop at the Hal Far Hangar Open centre where families are accommodated in tents. They include Somalis, Ethiopians and others from sub-Saharan Africa. In the afternoon she joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Almost 1 million people have left Libya since the outbreak of the Libya crisis. More than 16,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean from Libya on overcrowded boats. Many are in need of international protection, including refugees from sub-Saharan Africa and Libya. So far this year more than 1500 people have arrived in Malta, almost all of them crossing on overcrowded and rickety boats. Sadly an equal number have lost their lives at sea.

“Malta has saved many lives, but it is the daily conditions on the ground that are of most concern,” Jolie said in Malta on Sunday morning. “We’ve spent time today speaking with the government and will spend more time talking about how, together, we can make the conditions more humane, especially for the children.

“We’ve spoken about our shared concerns about making sure asylum claims are processed as quickly as possible so no-one is sitting in a prison-like situation and waiting on a decision about their status, “ she added.

So far more than 400 of the new asylum claims have been processed by the Office of the Refugee Commissioner. But around 900 people remain in detention in Lyster and Safi Barracks.

Many of the people Jolie met told her that they had been working in Libya. One man referred to Libya as the heart of Africa, where they were able to work. “Now it is on fire and Africa is crying,” he said.

The people said they had never attempted to come to Europe before, they just wanted a place where they were safe and could work. But when the war escalated in Libya, they ran out of options. “They are not asking to go to any particular country, they just want to find safety to work, and to have freedom,” Jolie stressed.

Women thrust their hands through bars and shook hands with the actress. “I just want freedom,” they all said.

Jolie praised the AFM coastguard, saying they had “saved thousands of lives over the years and should be commended for that. Malta should now be given support from the international community to handle this continuing situation”.

In recent years more than 1100 beneficiaries of protection in Malta have benefited from solutions in the US and in several European countries. This year alone the US has accepted to resettle 500 individuals. European countries have also pledged support through offers to receive more than 300 people from Malta.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador also visited the Hal Far Hangar open centre where vulnerable asylum-seekers are living in tents inside an old aircraft hangar. The people she met there said living conditions were difficult and they were concerned about fuel-dust on the ground and rats chewing their tents.

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And they leave a prison to go into a bigger prison (Malta). The immigrants biggest problem is not a couple of months in detention but the Dublin 2 treaty which forces immigrants to stay here against their will. More pressure should be done on our government to stop respecting a treaty which is causing frustration to locals and immigrants alike and is only contributing to keep the big guys in the North away from the problems they caused in the first place.
carmel duca
What can Angelina do? Hopefully, raise international awareness about men and women being kept in cages in Malta in 2011. And to think we kicked up such a fuss about divorce because of our government's 'Catholic conscience'. Honestly. The hypocrisy in this country is enough to make a warthog vomit.
You ask what Angelina can do ? She uses her popularity and celebrity status to draw attention to the problems not only on this side of the globe. She could easily spend her time elsewhere but she puts a lot of effort into her role as goodwill ambassador of the UNHCR and keeps these issues constantly in the press and therefore raises awareness.
Not just a pretty face. If anyone can read body language, I would say she is on the verge of crying but trying hard not to. Look at the way she is holding the iron bars, the veins on her hands show how strongly she is trying to hold back the tears.
What can Angolina do to alleviate the grave problems on this side of the globe. Just a PR exercise.
How educational is this for those who do not have a kind word to say about asylum seekers and refugees? . Good work in trying to destigmatise such a contentious and emotive area which is often subject to the most uncalled for prejudice and stereotyping. . We can all learn from this.