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Angelina Jolie visits Syrian refugees in Lebanon, calls for end to violence

  • Jolie meets with Syrian refugee children in the Bekaa Valley.

  • US actress and UNHCR special envoy Angelina Jolie speaks during a press conference with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres in the Lebanese capital Beirut on September 12, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID)

  • US actress and UNHCR special envoy Angelina Jolie speaks during a press conference following a meeting with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres and Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Beirut on September 12, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID)

  • UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie meets Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon in September in this UNHCR handout photo. (REUTERS/UNHCR/Jason Tanner/HO)

BEIRUT: Actress Angelina Jolie visited Syrian refugees in Lebanon Wednesday as part of a regional tour to draw attention to their plight.

“I was very moved today to meet again with the Syrian families and to meet them here – not in a camp but in homes where they are welcomed and protected,” Jolie said during a news conference at the Grand Serail following a meeting with Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

Jolie toured border towns in the Bekaa and visited the homes of several refugees and their hosts. She was accompanied by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, who also attended the meeting with Mikati.

Jolie’s role as U.N. special envoy entails touring Syrian refugee communities in an attempt to highlight their hardships and increase international support for them.

Wearing a flowing taupe robe, Jolie said she was particularly moved by an encounter with three Syrian women and their children who made the crossing into Lebanon alone. Joile also visited schools and shelters where refugees are staying.

“The Lebanese people themselves are dealing with their own problems,” she said. “It is all the more meaningful that they are so generous and so kind, and I hope the world acknowledges that.”

There are over 66,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon who are registered or awaiting registration. Local aid organizations say there are likely tens of thousands more who have not sought aid with UNHCR – they estimate there are over 90,000 refugees in the country.

Jolie was in Jordan Tuesday, where she toured a refugee camp and called for an end to the violence in Syria.

Speaking at the Grand Serail, Guterres’ called for more international assistance for the Syrian refugees.

“I believe the international community needs to do more in expressing solidarity with the Syrian refugees themselves that are suffering so much,” Guterres said.

UNHCR remains well short of its funding goals it has set to provide for an increasing number of refugees in the region. The United States is one of the organization’s main funders and a number of nations have made donations as the conflict in Syria has worsened.

Guterres said he commended Mikati on the government’s work with refugees and hoped to further cooperation with UNHCR over how to better aid the refugee community.

“Lebanon kept its borders open; Lebanon kept the doors of its houses open to their brothers and sisters coming from Syria. This is an example to the world,” Guterres said.

Despite a number of areas of cooperation the relationship between UNHCR and the government has been strained over a number of issues. The government has been slow to grant access to UNHCR officials to a number of high-population refugee areas. In Tripoli the government delayed setting up a refugee registration point for months.

Political leaders have resisted the idea of establishing refugee camps for the Syrians as Turkey and Jordan have done. Many refugees are staying with host families while other are housed in public buildings and shelters.

“We fully respect the Lebanese policy and we think that the best way to receive refugees is in the host communities,” Guterres said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 13, 2012, on page 3.
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