In a powerful new op-ed for the New York Times, the 39-year-old actress and special envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recounted the heart-wrenching trip she took just several days ago.
"I have visited Iraq five times since 2007, and I have seen nothing like the suffering I'm witnessing now," the Oscar winner writes. "I came to visit the camps and informal settlements where displaced Iraqis and Syrian refugees are desperately seeking shelter from the fighting that has convulsed their region. In almost four years of war, nearly half of Syria's population of 23 million people has been uprooted. Within Iraq itself, more than two million people have fled conflict and the terror unleashed by extremist groups. These refugees and displaced people have witnessed unspeakable brutality. Their children are out of school, they are struggling to survive, and they are surrounded on all sides by violence."
Jolie says she was left "speechless" by the stories of Syrian and Iraqi refugees she met with.
"What do you say to a mother with tears streaming down her face who says her daughter is in the hands of the Islamic State, or ISIS, and that she wishes she were there, too? Even if she had to be raped and tortured, she says, it would be better than not being with her daughter," the Unbroken director writes. "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. How can you speak when a woman your own age looks you in the eye and tells you that her whole family was killed in front of her, and that she now lives alone in a tent and has minimal food rations?"
Jolie says "only an end to the war in Syria will begin to turn the tide on these problems. Without that, we are just tinkering at the edges."
"At stake are not only the lives of millions of people and the future of the Middle East, but also the credibility of the international system. What does it say about our commitment to human rights and accountability that we seem to tolerate crimes against humanity happening in Syria and Iraq on a daily basis?" Jolie goes on. "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. But that is the situation today, with 51 million refugees, asylum-seekers or displaced people worldwide, more than at any time in the organization's history."
"Much more assistance must be found to help Syria's neighbors bear the unsustainable burden of millions of refugees," she concludes. "The United Nations' humanitarian appeals are significantly underfunded. Countries outside the region should offer sanctuary to the most vulnerable refugees in need of resettlement—for example, those who have experienced rape or torture. And above all, 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."