UN Refugees envoy Angelina Jolie says international community ‘failing’ Iraq’s displaced

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In Baghdad, Angelina Jolie visits with displaced Iraqi families. Photo: UNHCR/J. Tanner
25 January 2015 – The rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Iraq is a “shocking” reality that demands the international community’s immediate attention, Oscar-winning actress and United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) Special Envoy, Angelina Jolie, urged today as she visited Syrian refugees and displaced Iraqi citizens in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

“Since I was last here in Iraq, another 2 million people have been forced from their homes, mostly in the last six months – this time Iraqi citizens,” Ms. Jolie said at a press conference held at the Khanke Camp for Internally Displaced People (IDPs), in Iraq’s Dohuk Governorate.

“The spill-over from the Syria conflict has been devastating,” she continued. “The brutality of the conflict and speed and scale of the displacement has shocked the world. Help has come, but not nearly enough.”

Ms. Jolie’s latest visit – her first to Iraq since September 2012 – comes amid a “dramatic” worsening of the humanitarian situation in the war-torn country as the conflicts in Syria and Iraq “intensify and become intertwined,” UNHCR warned in a press release.

As a result of the escalating violence and precipitating security situation in the region, 3.3 million remain displaced throughout the country and an estimated 330,000 people still live in sub-standard shelters as they face their first winter away from home. The grim scenario is also unfolding despite UNHCR’s ongoing “massive aid response” which, noted Ms. Jolie, was in dire need of additional funding.

During her visit to Khanke, the Special Envoy met with Iraqi IDPs as well as elderly women who were among the 196 Yazidis recently released by insurgents. The camp is currently hosting more than 20,000 people from the Yazidi minority who fled Sinjar, in Iraq’s Nineveh province, in early August as militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) advanced against Government forces.

“Nothing can prepare you for the horrific stories of these survivors of kidnap, abuse and exploitation and to see how they cannot all get the urgent help they need and deserve,” Ms. Jolie said. “Children whose parents were murdered and are now here unaccompanied – a 19 year old working and being the sole provider for his 7 siblings. I have met mothers whose children have been kidnapped by ISIL. As a parent, I couldn’t imagine a greater horror. They are overwhelmed by thoughts of what is happening to their children.”

According to UNHCR, funding shortfalls have directly affected the scale and type of programmes the agency maintains to help survivors of violence and human rights abuses, including shelter and other assistance. Only 53 per cent of the UN agency’s required $337 million for 2014 Iraq response has been received. In addition, it has received the go-ahead to proceed on projected funding for only 31 per cent of its required $556 million for 2015.

“Too many innocent people are paying the price of the conflict in Syria and spread of extremism,” Ms. Jolie added, as she concluded her visit. said wrapping up the first day of her two-day visit to Iraq today. “The international community has to step up and do more.”

“It is not enough to defend our values at home. We have to defend them here, in the camps and in the informal settlements across the Middle East, and in the ruined towns of Iraq and Syria. We are being tested here, as an international community, and so far – for all the immense efforts and good intentions – we are failing.”