The award-winning actress and United Nations goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie has urged the international community to not forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain unwilling to return to their homeland despite the relative decrease in violence in that country over the past year.
Visiting Iraqi refugees living in Damascus, the capital of neighbouring Syria, Ms. Jolie said yesterday that it was clear that many people will not be returning home for some time and will need continued support.
“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,” she said.
An estimated 4.2 million Iraqis have left their homes since the start of conflict in 2003, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and currently 215,000 of them are registered with the agency in Syria.
Ms. Jolie, a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR since 2001, was making her second trip to Syria with the agency to spotlight the situation facing Iraqis who have fled their country.
With her partner, the actor Brad Pitt, Ms. Jolie was welcomed into the Damascus homes of several Iraqi families, and heard harrowing tales of their suffering back in Iraq and their struggles to escape from their homeland with their lives.
Many of the refugees exhausted their savings a long time ago and now depend on humanitarian agencies such as UNHCR, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or the Syrian Government for basics such as bedding and food.
Ms. Jolie said that “until other solutions are found, or these refugees are able to go home, it is essential that the international community help UNHCR to provide financial and food support so that they can survive.”
The Goodwill Ambassador also met yesterday with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma and she said later that “it is clear that the Syrian people, no matter the challenges or difficulties they may face, have always shown generous hospitality to people in need.”