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Angelina Jolie: Iraq, Syria worse than ever before

Angelina Jolie penned a moving editorial demanding that the international community help the millions of vulnerable refugees stranded in the Middle East.
Angelina Jolie meets meets displaced Iraqis who are members of the minority Christian community, living in an abandoned school, on Jan. 26, 2015 in Al Qosh, Iraq. (Photo by Andrew McConnell/UNHCR/Getty)
Angelina Jolie meets meets displaced Iraqis who are members of the minority Christian community, living in an abandoned school, on Jan. 26, 2015 in Al Qosh, Iraq.

“What do you say to the 13-year-old girl who describes the warehouses where she and the others lived and would be pulled out, three at a time, to be raped by the men? When her brother found out, he killed himself.”

That’s the question actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie asks in a moving editorial published in today’s New York Times. She describes the devastating refugee crisis occurring in the Middle East and pushes the West to help the 51 million refugees, asylum-seekers, and displaced people worldwide.

Jolie, the special envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, argues that world is failing a new type of refugee: The kind who no longer has a home and who needs help from the international system.

“When the United Nations refugee agency was created after World War II, it was intended to help people return to their homes after conflict. It wasn’t created to feed, year after year, people who may never go home, whose children will be born stateless, and whose countries may never see peace,” she wrote. “But that is the situation today.”

Her plea comes just as the United States has reentered the region with a campaign of airstrikes and military aid combating the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS), a brutal terrorist group that has taken control of large areas in both countries. Despite President Obama’s promises to extricate the country from Middle East military missions after more than a decade of war, the president said the United States could not allow ISIS to gain control of Iraq, after its long fight to bring democracy to the country. In late 2014, the U.S. came to the aide of Shiite refugees who were trapped on a mountain under dire circumstances and in danger of being slaughtered by ISIS forces.

“Nothing prepares you for the reality of so much individual human misery: for the stories of suffering and death, and the gaze of hungry, traumatized children,” she wrote. “Who can blame them for thinking that we have given up on them? Only a fraction of the humanitarian aid they need is being provided. There has been no progress on ending the war in Syria since the Geneva process collapsed 12 months ago. Syria is in flames, and areas of Iraq are gripped by fighting. The doors of many nations are bolted against them. There is nowhere they can turn.” 

Jolie demanded additional funding to the United Nation’s humanitarian efforts and urged countries outside the Middle East to offer sanctuary and homes to the “most vulnerable refugees” who have been raped and tortured.   

“The international community as a whole has to find a path to a peace settlement. It is not enough to defend our values at home, in our newspapers and in our institutions. We also have to defend them in the refugee camps of the Middle East, and the ruined ghost towns of Syria,” she concluded.