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Jolie in Iraq: 2M refugees need help

  • Story Highlights
  • Angelina Jolie visits Iraq to boost efforts to help internally displaced refugees
  • Actress tells CNN: "There doesn't seem to be real coherent plan to help them"
  • Jolie is goodwill ambassador for U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees
  • More than 4.2 million Iraqis have fled homes, 2 million to neighboring states
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie is visiting Iraq to boost what she sees as lagging efforts to deal with the problems of 2 million "very very vulnerable" internally displaced people in the wartorn country.

Angelina Jolie has been working to focus attention on problem of refugees in Iraq.

"There doesn't seem to be a real coherent plan to help them," said Jolie, speaking in an exclusive interview with CNN's Arwa Damon Thursday.

"There's lots of goodwill. 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. I'm trying to figure out what they are."

A goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Jolie wants to find ways to help the agency be more active inside war-torn Iraq. Video Watch CNN's exclusive interview with Jolie »

Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence in the country has sparked a displacement crisis that is considered the most significant in the Middle East since the 1948 creation of Israel.

More than 4.2 million Iraqis have fled their homes, around 2 million to neighboring states, mostly Syria and Jordan, and another 2.2 million displaced inside Iraq.

The flight was aggravated by the February 2006 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, an attack that stoked pitched sectarian warfare. Many of the internally displaced live precarious lives amid conditions of squalor, crowded into camps and slums that often lack basic necessities, such as proper food, health care and shelter.

"How Iraq settles in the years to come is going to affect the entire Middle East," said Jolie. "It's in our best interest to address a humanitarian crisis on this scale because displacement can lead to a lot of instability and aggression." Read transcript of interview

Jolie has been working to help draw attention to the problem and has called for governments to bolster their support of the U.N.H.C.R. In August, Jolie first visited Iraq and Syria to get a sense of the problem. She heard stories from refugees about their plight. Video Watch as Jolie lunches with troops »

This visit to Iraq is focusing on the problems of the internally displaced, 58 percent of whom are under age 12. A top issue for the agency is getting better security.

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Jolie is talking with U.S. officials, including top U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, about that issue, and are willing to provide such security which she said "needs to be addressed and solved."

The Iraqi government needs to empower agencies that deal with migration to address the concerns of the displaced -- but that has not happened yet, she said.

Jolie said it was crucial that the government prepare a plan to deal with refugees who return home from Syria and Jordan and find that their homes are "occupied" by others or "bombed out." She emphasizes the way in which these people are resettled will have "broad implications" in the region.

Jolie also is talking to people about moving forward the U.S. effort to resettle Iraqi refugees in the United States, which has set a goal of taking in 12,000 of those people by September. Only 375 have been admitted so far.

"I have to believe there are people working toward that goal," she said.

International agencies, such as the United Nations and the Arab League, and many countries in the region and in Europe are addressing the refugee and the internally displaced persons' crisis, and money is being allocated to Iraq and host countries to help clothe, feed and house people.

Most of the refugees are in Syria and Jordan, and they reside in big cities like Damascus and Amman. The U.N.C.H.R. is trying to help governments in Syria and Jordan to cope with the influx, which has stretched the resources of institutions like schools and health systems. It is also attempting to help 41,000 non-Iraqi refugees in Iraq, such as Palestinians and Iranians.


Last month, the UNHCR announced a plan to seek $261 million this year for its work to help these refugees. It has almost 350 staffers "directly engaged in operations for Iraq and the surrounding region."

Officials in Iraq and the coalition have been heartened by the fact that some refugees are starting to trickle back home. But they are returning to a country where mixed Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods have turned into Sunni or Shiite enclaves and that they might not be able to return to their homes. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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