While other actors and actresses of Hollywood’s elite pick out suit and dresses for the award season, one A-List actor is using her fame for the good of those suffering half a world away. Angelina Jolie traveled to the Kurdistan region of Iraq on Sunday to show her solidarity with the nearly 3.3 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees displaced by growing conflict in the Middle East.
The Oscar winner visited a camp at Khanke as well as an informal settlement nearby. The sites are now home to more than 20,000 Yazidi people who fled the Sinjar region due to Islamic State invasions in early August. She spoke to people of their stories of escape from imprisonment, many of whom had to walk through the night hiking in the Iraqi wilderness and hiding during the day.
She also met with a group of elderly women who told their stories of being released by insurgents and finding their way to Khanke. The women recounted to Jolie their trials of being kidnapped and detained before being released and fleeing. Many of the women still have “sons, husbands and daughters detained,” and are unable to know the fate of their loved ones, according to a UNHCR report.
"Nothing can prepare you for the horrific stories of these survivors of kidnap, abuse and exploitation and to see how they cannot all get the urgent help they need and deserve," the actress told UNHCR. "The needs so dramatically outstrip the resources available in this vast crisis. Much more international assistance is needed."
She went on to tour many of the makeshift homes of the displaced families and later spoke to a crowd of hundreds who turned out to see the Hollywood star speak.
“Since I was last here in Iraq,” she said, “another two million people have been forced from their homes. Mostly in the last six months -- this time Iraqi citizens.
“Too many innocent people are paying the price of the conflict in Syria and spread of extremism. The international community has to step up and do more.”
Jolie later held a press conference where she addressed the importance of the international community taking an active role in helping the refugees.
“It is not enough to defend our values at home. We have to defend them here, in the camps and in the informal settlements across the Middle East, and in the ruined towns of Iraq and Syria. We are being tested here, as an international community, and so far – for all the immense efforts and good intentions – we are failing.”
Since her last visit to Iraq in 2012, the amount of humanitarian action has increased as the conflict in Syria and Iraq has intensified. While many have come to their aid, there is an estimated 330,000 people all across Iraq who still live in substandard housing as they await for an impending winter.
As fighting and civil unrest continue to cause turmoil throughout Syria, Jolie pointed to it as the cause of the problems throughout the region.
"The war in Syria is at the root of so many of the problems faced here in Iraq and across the region," she stated. "There is an urgent need for international leadership to break the cycle of violence in Syria, and to find a way forward towards a just and sustainable peace agreement."