A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
Academy Award-winning actress Dame Helen Mirren is a longstanding supporter of Oxfam. She has dedicated much of her time to campaigning for conflict resolution, women's issues and firearms controls.
Helen's public involvement with Oxfam began in 1994, when she backed Oxfam's Rwanda Appeal to help those displaced and suffering as a result of the genocide.
In 1999, as part of Oxfam's Control Arms campaign, Helen travelled to South Africa to meet victims of domestic violence and firearms crimes. Later that year she addressed the UN Security Council in New York, calling for an international arms trade treaty to stop weapons getting into the wrong hands.
She visited northern Uganda in 2004, to highlight the brutal civil war there and push for a peaceful resolution. Helen met communities plagued by the rebel fighters and by the Ugandan army's sometimes heavy-handed response to them. She saw at first hand the devastating and brutalizing effect that readily-available arms were having on children and spoke to many child soldiers.
Helen said: "The situation in Uganda is like living in the worst real horror movie".
Although no peace agreement has been signed, conditions are now stable in northern Uganda and many of the villagers are returning back home. For the first time in twenty years, peace talks are offering signs of a resolution to the conflict.
Helen Mirren urges governments to agree on an Arms Trade Treaty
Helen has lobbied hard on behalf of the Control Arms campaign, meeting with Jack Straw (the then Foreign Secretary of the UK) shortly after her return from Uganda and wrote supporting articles for the media. In 2006, 153 governments voted at the UN General Assembly to work towards an International Arms Trade Treaty. This was one of the key goals of the Control Arms campaign. When government experts met again in 2008 to discuss the scope and feasibility of this treaty, Helen called on them to stay focused and agree tough new measures to curb the arms trade.
In addition to Helen's campaigning and advocacy work, she has supported the 2009 East Africa Drought Appeal, been filmed for an Oxfam Unwrapped Christmas advert, donates items for fundraising auctions and continues to speak regularly to the media on Oxfam's behalf among many other supportive activities.