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Angelina Jolie visits Syrian refugees, begs world to help

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy Angelina Jolie visits Syrian refugees in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon March 15, 2016. (Reuters)

By Agencies

UN special envoy Angelina Jolie urged world powers on Tuesday to do more to end Syria's five-year war and help the millions who have fled the conflict, as she visited refugees in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

The war has killed 250,000 people, displaced half of Syria's population and created Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War Two. Talks on a political solution are underway in Geneva, but hopes of progress are modest.


As a diplomatic solution eludes politicians, simply coping with the growing humanitarian crisis is not a viable alternative, Jolie said.

"We cannot manage the world through aid relief in the place of diplomacy and diplomatic solutions," she said at a muddy camp in Saadnayel, about 15 km (10 miles) from the Syrian border. Refugees gathered around, bracing against heavy rain and wind.

"We need governments around the world to show leadership: to analyse the situation and understand exactly what their country can do, how many refugees they can assist and how."


Highlighting the huge refugee influx into Syria's immediate neighbours, which have been hosting millions of refugees, she said the problem was not "confined to the situations of tens of thousands of refugees in Europe".

Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon host the vast majority of the 4.8 million refugees created by the conflict. The one million registered refugees in Lebanon represent a quarter of the country's population.

"The greatest pressure is still being felt in the Middle East and North Africa," Jolie said.


Reason and calm and foresight

Jolie met Khulud, a 38-year-old mother of four now living in a tent in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, who was left paralysed three years ago by a sniper in Syria, according to the UN refugee agency.

"Never once during our discussion did she ask for anything, did she stop smiling, or talk of anything other than her desire for her children to have the chance to go to school and have a better life," the actress and activist said.

"When I saw her beautiful smile, and her dedicated husband and children looking after her, I was in awe of them. They are heroes to me. And I ask myself, what have we come to when such survivors are made to feel like beggars?"


Jolie later visited Beirut "where she met a group of women living in poor conditions, a damp collective shelter, that left them and their families exposed to sickness," said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The star, who has visited Syrian refugees in Lebanon before, appealed to governments around the world to step up their assistance to the nearly five million people who have been forced by war to flee their country.

Jolie called for "reason and calm and foresight" in response to the international migrant crisis, which in 2015 saw more than one million asylum-seekers reach Europe's shores.


"We must not let fears get the better of us," she said, noting that tiny Lebanon alone has seen more than one million Syrians flow across the border since war erupted in 2011.

"We must not let fear stand in the way of an effective response that is in our long-term interests," she said.

"My plea today is that we need governments around the world to show leadership: to analyse the situation and understand exactly what their country can do... to explain this to their citizens and address fears - based not on emotion but on a measured assessment of what can and must be done to share the responsibility and get on top of this situation."


Syria's war began as a peaceful pro-democracy movement that faced a brutal government crackdown in 2011.

Struggle is on

European Union leaders, alarmed by an influx of 1 million refugees and migrants into the bloc of 500 million people, have sketched an accord with Turkey, that would grant Ankara more money to keep the 2.7 million Syrian refugees on its territory.

The vast majority of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in extreme poverty, the United Nations says. Jolie, special envoy for UN refugee agency Unhcr, said 80 percent were in debt, after any savings they brought from Syria had run out.

Unhcr says there are likely more than 60 million people forcibly displaced worldwide - one in every 122 people.

Syria's conflict has also created 2.4 million child refugees, killed many and led to the increasing recruitment of children as fighters, children's fund Unicef said in a report to mark the five-year anniversary.