Goodwill Ambassador Adel Imam encourages Iraqi schoolchildren in Syria

News Stories, 12 September 2007

© UNHCR/J.Wreford
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Adel Imam meets Syrian and Iraqi schoolchildren in Damascus.

DAMASCUS, Syria, September 12 (UNHCR) UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Adel Imam on Wednesday visited Iraqi children attending schools in Syria and urged them to study hard and keep faith in the future.

"Until the day that you return to your homes, I want you to take your education seriously and make the best out of it," the hugely popular Egyptian actor told children at the Seida Zeinab Elementary school in Damascus, where more than 350,000 Iraqi refugees have found shelter.

Imam was cheered by students, teachers and parents, who crowded the playground of the school. "I love to see Adel Imam on television, but to see him show up in our classroom today is a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life," said an Iraqi girl starting third grade.

The Goodwill Ambassador's visit coincided with the start of the academic year, in which the Syrian Ministry of Education hopes to have 100,000 Iraqi refugee schoolchildren enrolled in public schools. Tens of thousands of Iraqis in Syria started classes this week; many of these children have missed out on a considerable amount of their education, both in Iraq and as refugees in Syria.

Speaking to Syrian children sitting next to their new Iraqi classmates, Imam thanked them for their hospitality and for making refugee children feel at home in their temporary refuge.

"I will go back to the whole world and tell them about your kindness and generosity and I want you to keep this spirit going in your classrooms," said Imam, addressing a class of more than 40 girls starting second grade.

Ending a two-day visit to Syria, Imam acknowledged the country's extraordinary generosity in taking in more than 1.5 million Iraqis who have fled violence in their homeland. In meetings with Syrian officials, including Minister of Education Ali Saad and Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad, Imam voiced appreciation for Syria's support to uprooted Iraqis and called for broader international involvement in easing the humanitarian burden on the region.

"I am overwhelmed and proud to witness first hand the extreme generosity of the Syrians towards their Iraqi brothers and we continue to count on their support to provide a safe haven for the humanitarian cases that will continue to arrive in the border area," said Imam. The Syrian government this week implemented new visa restrictions for Iraqis arriving at the Syrian border.

Imam also urged support for Syria. "The international community and the Arab world have to do their share as well and support Syria and neighbouring countries who [have] carried the heavy burden of hosting Iraqis since violence erupted in their homes," he said.

Later in the day, Imam visited a UNHCR registration centre in Damascus where he received another enthusiastic welcome from Iraqi refugees as well as excited UNHCR staff. He talked to several refugees about their experiences, including kidnapping ordeals and murder attempts.

Imam is the second UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador to visit Syria in the past three weeks. American actress Angelina Jolie met Iraqi refugees in Damascus late last month and also visited a camp just inside Iraq.

The UN refugee agency estimates that more than 4.2 million Iraqis have left their homes 2 million to neighbouring states and another 2.2 million displaced inside Iraq.

In late July, UNHCR and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) launched a joint US$129 million education appeal aimed at getting 155,000 young Iraqi refugees throughout the Middle East back into school.

By Abeer Etefa in Damascus, Syria

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Adel Imam

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UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

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