Angelina Jolie, the UN refugee agency’s Special Envoy, visited to a refugee camp in northern Iraq on Sunday and was met with smiles and warm greetings from young children and adult survivors of ISIS attacks.
The 39-year-old Oscar-winning actress is on an official, two-day United Nations trip to the autonomous Kurdistan region of the country. She is there to visit Syrian refugees and displaced Iraqi citizens, which total more than 3.3 million.
News about her trip was first announced after she arrived in Iraq, which is common practice for high-profile trips due to security concerns. Jolie was seen flying out of Los Angeles on Friday and did not join husband Brad Pitt at the Producers Guild Awards the following day.
On Sunday, she traveled to the Khanke camp, which was created in December and hosts displaced Iraqis who fled after surviving kidnappings and other attacks by jihadists from the group Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. The some 20,000 adults and kids live in crowded, makeshift tents and drink tap water from containers donated by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
“Children whose parents were murdered and are now here unaccompanied—a 19 year old working and being the sole provider for his 7 siblings,” Jolie, who shares six kids with Pitt, said, according to the United Nations. “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.”
At Khanke, the actress and longtime humanitarian also met with women who survived kidnappings themselves and many who had lost contact with members of their family. More than 3.8 million Syrians have escaped to Iraq and other neighboring countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, according to the UN.
Jolie also traveled to Iraq’s largest Syrian refugee camp, Domiz, which hosts more than 50,000 refugees. She had also visited the area during her last trip to the country, in 2012. This marked her sixth visit to meet Syrian refugees, whose country has been plagued by a civil war for more than three-and-a-half years.
“Too many innocent people are paying the price of the conflict in Syria and spread of extremism,” Jolie said. “I express my deepest sympathy to the family of Haruna Yukawa, the Japanese hostage reportedly murdered in Syria on Saturday, and to all the families and victims of these vile and extreme acts.”
The Japanese captive went missing in Syria last August and was reportedly beheaded by Islamic State, as suggested in a recent video that has surfaced buch which has not been confirmed to be authentic. He is one of several foreigners who join the thousands of people killed by the jihadist group, which has captured parts of Iraq and Syria. The United States and coalition partners have been launching air strikes to try to stop them.
At Khanke, Jolie made an urgent plea to members of the international community.
“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,” she said. “The needs so dramatically outstrip the resources available in this vast crisis. Much more international assistance is needed.”
“It is not enough to defend our values at home,” she added. “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.”