Concerns over uncontrolled migration have allowed a politics of fear to grow when it comes to the present-day refugee crisis, Angelina Jolie Pitt has warned.
The actress, who is special envoy for the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) , gave a keynote address as part of a special day on the BBC dedicated to issues raised by the mass movement of people around the world.
The Oscar winner said the refugee crisis presents a “once-in-a-generation moment when nations have to pull together”.
She said the responsibility to help refugees and deal with the issue is one for ordinary people as well as the authorities.
Speaking to an audience at the BBC radio theatre – which included schoolchildren, some of whom had experience of migration – she said: “This is a duty that falls on all of us.”
Jolie Pitt said she recognised the fears of people who feel “angry” and “cheated” by the huge numbers crossing borders around the world, and said those concerns have eroded public confidence in the ability of institutions in power to deal with the issue.
She said: “It has given space to a false air of legitimacy to those who promote the politics of fear and separation.
“It has created the risk of a race to the bottom, with countries competing to be the toughest in the hope of protecting themselves whatever the cost or challenge to their neighbours and despite their international responsibilities.”
When it comes to refugees, the mother-of-six said we must remember that everyone is human and deserves respect.
She said society will “fail the basic test of humanity if we discriminate between refugees on the basis of religion, race or ethnicity”.
She said every refugee is “a person with an equal right to stand in dignity on this planet”.
In conversation with BBC presenter Mishal Husain following her speech, Jolie Pitt said she finds it “hard” to hear comments made by the controversial presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump – who has previously said he would build a wall between America and Mexico and called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US.
She said: “It is hard to hear that this is coming from somebody who is pressing to be an American president.”
Jolie Pitt said German chancellor Angela Merkel’s move to open her country’s borders to refugees was a “beautiful thing and said something to the world”, but warned there must be an order to how migration is handled so citizens of that country can understand what is happening.
The activist said the UK had faced darker times in the past and “risen from the ashes to build a stronger country” and can do so again – but only if there is proper leadership on the issue.
She said: “I mean it when I say it’s not something that is an idea, it’s something I believe we all know we must do because we are at that moment, we’re really at a breaking point.”