Angelina Jolie calls for aid to refugees on Iraq visit

United Nations goodwill ambassador and Hollywood megastar Angelina Jolie visited Iraq on a humanitarian mission on Thursday and met top officials to demand help for people displaced by the war.

A scheduled press conference at the United States embassy was cancelled, but the Oscar-winning actress gave an interview to CNN in which she said she wanted more to be done for the Iraqi families driven from their homes.

“There are over two million displaced people and there never seems to be a real coherent plan to help them,” she said.

“There’s lots of good will and lots of discussion but there seems to be a lot of talk at the moment and a lot of pieces that need to be put together.”

The US embassy in Baghdad confirmed that Jolie had lunch with US troops serving in Iraq and had held a meeting with their top commander General David Petraeus, senior diplomats and Iraq’s minister for displaced people.

“She is here in her official capacity as a UN goodwill ambassador to meet with US, Iraqi and NGO officials to discuss internally displaced persons,” said a US embassy official.

She also held talks in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone talks with the United Nations head of mission Staffan di Mistura and there were also plans for her to meet Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a US official said.

“Of the two million internally displaced, it’s estimated 58% are under 12 years old. It’s a very high number of people in a very, very vulnerable situation and a lot of young kids,” Jolie told CNN.

“So far, the different US officials I met with and different local people I’ve met with all have shared concerns, very, very strongly. They have spoken out about the humanitarian crisis, but there seems to be a block in.”

The actress, most famous for her roles in Hollywood hits Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Mr and Mrs Smith, said she would urge US and Iraqi officials to provide better security for UN refugee agency workers.

Currently, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has been unable to mount widespread aid operations within Iraq because of the daily violence that has wracked the country during its five-year-old war.

Jolie played an aid worker in the 2003 film Beyond Borders and subsequently became a volunteer for the United Nations goodwill programme. She has campaigned on behalf of Iraqi refugees, and visited Iraq, before.

In August 2007, Jolie met some of the 1 200 Iraqis stranded on the border between Iraq and Syria and appealed for more international support for those affected by the Iraq conflict.

During that tour, Jolie left UNHCR officials to visit privately with US and other multinational forces based in the area.

The following month, she launched a $150-million appeal by Unicef, the UN’s fund for children, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to help educate one million children affected by the war. – AFP

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