When BBC held its large auditorium for a debate named ‘World on the move’ about refugee and migration issues in London a few days ago, it was Angelina Jolie Pitt who was at the center stage. The beautiful, intellectual and kind-hearted actress, who has visited Afghan refugees in Pakistan several times, is a senior goodwill ambassador for UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency. The audience was made up of international and national civil servants, experts on humanitarian, refugee and migration issues, including young students and some of the victims and beneficiaries, the uprooted people themselves.

Angelina Jolie spoke with passion and insight, explaining issues in a language appealing to both heart and mind.

There are some 60 million refugees in the world today, many of them living in temporary camp situations, without much hope of a normal life neither in the short or long term. In addition, there are tens of millions who are forced or semi-forced economic migrants, as we often term those who move from situations of deep poverty, but not from direct war and conflict situations. And there are many people, including children, who are trafficked and smuggled across and within borders.

Jolie said that over the decade and a half that she had been involved with refugee issues, the situation was today more gloomy than before. There is underfunding of UNHCR and other international humanitarian organisations handling refugee issues to such a degree that the system is breaking down. There is more talk about the crisis in Europe as seen from the receiving countries than the crisis as seen from the refugees themselves; even the push factors sending economic migrants into unknown futures are not highlighted properly.

Angelina Jolie said that we need to review the way we as people of this world think about refugee and migration issues, and indeed the way we fund and organise assistance to refugees. She reminded us that the United Nations has responsibilities that are not met; the UN member states do not always act in the best interest of suffering people. She said we need to find new and better ways of thinking about these issues, how to help, and how to make people better equipped to help themselves.

Although the positive approaches to the refugee and migration issues are at its lowest ebb since the Second World War – at a time with the highest in number of displaced people – Angelina Jolie said she was still optimistic as for how organisations, institutions and people would find new and better ways out of the crises.

If it had come from somebody else, such as a senior diplomat or peace optimist, I would not have believed it. But since it came from Angelina Jolie, and since she had earlier in the debate been so realistic and critical about issues, I did believe her, and I want to believe her. Besides, there is no other way: we have to find solutions and modalities that are much better than what the current world regime offers – and we have to re-consider the dominant ways of thinking, how politicians, experts, and ordinary citizens think, talk and act.

We are already far behind schedule, although we live in a time with ‘enough’ knowledge, but we neglect using the knowledge right. The term ‘ostrich politics’ is relevant; comparing us all to what ostriches do when they get scared on the beach; they hide their head in the sand and think they are safe and cannot been seen. But problems like the current refugee and migration crises don’t go away by themselves; they can only be solved by concerned people, politicians and experts. We need to think outside the box.

It is important to underline that when searching for new ways we should not only think of the recipient countries, whose interests the diplomats and most of the other international players first think and talk about. Even UN headquarters have as their mandate to think of the hosts, the strong members first, and then, second, the sending countries and only third, the victims and beneficiaries of forced and semi-voluntary migration. True, UNHCR is a UN organisation, and there are other international organisations dealing with refugees, such the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). UNHCR and IOM are humanitarian organisations, not political organisations. The large international NGOs are often in the pocket of the UN and their donor country governments, and are careful to rock the boat and speak up. Oxfam, the UK charity, and even Save the Children, may be exceptions proving the rule.

And where are the researchers and students? When I was a young man, we were much more outspoken and action oriented. We didn’t get the results we should have as regards North-South relations, such issues that UNCTAD and other UN organisations handle. The New International Economic Order being worked on in the 1970s came to naught; fair trade and fair international migration regulations are fundamental to a better world. Instead we got the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and other ‘rich man clubs’. And we, who were researchers that time (before we ended up in the UN, NGOs and government aid agencies) we somehow also toed the line. Hence, it is those who are young today, who must shoulder the urgent tasks.

We should realise that people will be on the move more and more in future. Sadly, wars are to be with us, I am sorry to predict, especially as long as there is only one superpower, and as long as the Middle East, Africa and other parts of the world are in the infancy of democratic rule (and much of the reasons for they being latecomers are to be placed at the doorstep of the former colonial masters and the West). The number of refugees will hopefully go down, but I fear it could also increase because people have more information than before about how to go into exile. We should know that most refugees go to neighbouring countries in the South were most armed conflicts are; relatively few come to the West, even today when we talk about a refugee crisis in Europe. Higher numbers fled to Europe last year than before, but it is a false and illusionary term to call it a crisis. Again, Europe and America should have begun long ago help make the economic and political situations in the South such that people wouldn’t be pushed to leave, as refugees or as economic migrants, or many combinations of the two.

In the BBC event I referred to above, Angelina Jolie had a balanced view with deep insight and passion. She was also quite independent, but even she is a goodwill ambassador and spokesperson for the UN and UNHCR. But she was much more independent than Sir Richard Dearlove, a former chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service, who spoke about the migration crisis from Europe’s a security and terrorist-protection perspective. But the way around that issue is not to keep refugees and others out of Europe, and increase surveillance and policing. The way is greater fairness amongst newcomers and indigenous Europeans, indeed between the South and North, and within the sending countries in the South. The European Union does have a an important role, too, but the organisation is not yet up to mark.

I hope we will soon dig much deeper into the refugee and migration issues than we have done until now, in the West and in the developing countries, where most refugees come from and live. I have written many times in my articles that Pakistan has long and broad experience as a refugee hosting country – as has many African countries. That experience should be made use of internationally when we seek a new refugee and migration order. I hope, too, that next week will signal some new thinking when the World Humanitarian Summit will be held in Istanbul, Turkey on 23-24 May. We should all remember: When the world is on the move, we cannot stand still!