Angelina Jolie urges support for Syrian refugees and Iraqi returnees

News Stories, 16 September 2012

© UNHCR/J.Tanner
On the fourth and final leg of her regional tour, UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie spent the weekend in Iraq. In Baghdad, she visited Iraqi families who had been displaced twice: first to Syria to escape the war in Iraq, and now back to Iraq.

DOMIZ REFUGEE CAMP, Iraq, September 16 (UNHCR) UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie today hailed the Iraqi government's willingness to host Syrian refugees fleeing violence and said she hoped all Syrians seeking asylum in Iraq would be welcomed.

"I want to highlight the noble efforts of the Iraqi government and the people of Iraq to support Syrian refugees," said Jolie. "At this juncture, it is critical that Iraq receives urgent international support and continues to welcome refugees across its borders."

In the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Saturday, Jolie met with senior government officials and spent time with Iraqis, until recently refugees in Syria, who have returned to Iraq after fleeing violence in their places of former refuge. She spent today meeting Syrian refugees in the Domiz camp in northern Iraq. She also met officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government, including Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and Interior Minister Karim Sinjari as well as the governors of Erbil and Dohuk. Many of the officials she met were former refugees. "We know how it feels," one official told Jolie.

In her meetings Saturday in Baghdad with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Hoshyar Zebari and the Minister of Displacement and Migration Dindar Najman Shafeeq and on Sunday with Kurdistan Regional Government officials, Jolie pledged further UNHCR support for the government in receiving and hosting additional Syrian refugees as their numbers rapidly increase.

This was her fourth and final stop of a tour of countries neighbouring Syria, where more than 260,000 Syrian refugees have been registered since the conflict began in March 2011.

Earlier this week, Jolie visited Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey with UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. They both pledged continued support and emphasized the life-saving importance of maintaining open borders and hosting Syrians in need.

This is Jolie's fourth visit to Iraq. Some 1.3 million Iraqis remain displaced in their country and the government has made it a priority to improve their standard of living and find solutions for them through voluntary return to their places of origin or through local integration.

"Combined with the new influx of Syrian refugees and the sudden return of over 30,000 of their own citizens, the complexity of the situation and the challenges for this country just emerging from conflict cannot be overstated," Jolie said.

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Angelina Jolie in Bosnia

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie met with forcibly displaced people on April 5, 2010 during her first visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, called for steps to end the continued suffering of these victims of the Bosnian War after hearing their harrowing tales and seeing their grim living conditions.

Jolie was clearly moved by the spirit - and the ordeal - of the people she met and she pledged to highlight their case. Most of the people she talked to have been living in exile since the end of the 1992-1995 conflict. Jolie visited collective centres in the towns of Gorazde and Rogatica, where the inhabitants lack basic services such as running water.

The actress spent some time with a group of women who were raped or tortured during the war. Their tales left a deep impression on her. She also met a family of refugee returnees who were still waiting to move into their village home near the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad.

Angelina Jolie in Bosnia

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UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie in March 2011 returned to Afghanistan. On her second trip to the country, the acclaimed actress called for greater focus to be put on the reintegration of former refugees. More than 5.5 million refugees have returned since 2002, mainly from Pakistan and Iran, and now make up 20 per cent of the population. UNHCR is concerned that too many of these refugees continue to live without jobs, shelter and other basic needs.

Jolie caught up with several families she had met in 2008, still living in a dilapidated warehouse in Kabul. She was moved to see the families struggling to survive in the cold damp building. Children spend their days washing cars for money instead of attending school; the old and sick told Jolie of their pain to be such a burden on the young.

The actress also visited returned refugees living on the Alice Ghan and Barikab land allocation schemes north of Kabul. The returnees told her they were grateful for their houses but needed help with livelihoods. Jolie also visited Qala Gadu village, where she is funding the construction of a girls' primary school.

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In her new role as UNHCR Special Envoy, Angelina Jolie has made five trips to visit refugees so far this year. She travelled to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey in September 2012 to meet some of the tens of thousands of Syrians who have fled conflict in their homeland and sought shelter in neighbouring countries. Jolie wrapped up her Middle East visit in Iraq, where she met Syrian refugees in the north as well as internally displaced Iraqis and refugee returnees to Baghdad.

The following unpublished photos were taken during her visit to the Middle East and show her meeting with Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Angelina Jolie visits Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the Middle East

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