From: Reuters
Published February 7, 2008 09:50 AM

Jolie: Internally displaced Iraqis need more help

By Paul Tait

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Hollywood star and humanitarian activist Angelina Jolie appealed on Thursday for more international help for the millions of Iraqis displaced internally and abroad, U.N. officials said.

Jolie, a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), met officials from the United Nations, the U.S. embassy and the U.S. military in central Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

"She's here in her official capacity to talk to government officials, the military and the United Nations about Iraq's refugees and displaced persons," Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. envoy to Baghdad, told Reuters.

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Jolie also visited Iraq last August, when she went to a makeshift camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) and met Iraqi refugees in Damascus, capital of neighboring Syria.

She said she wanted more information about IDPs and to discuss the problem with the Iraqi government, U.S. officials and aid workers, as well as to meet local Iraqis.

"There are over 2 million internally displaced people and there doesn't seem to be a real coherent plan to help them," Jolie told CNN. "There's lots of goodwill and lots of discussion but there seems to be just a lot of talk at the moment and a lot of pieces need to be put together," she said.

Some 2.2 million Iraqis have fled sectarian fighting which killed tens of thousands after the bombing of a revered Shi'ite shrine in February 2006 and pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.

The Iraqi Red Crescent estimates that between 1.5 million and 2 million Iraqis fled to Syria, most of the others going to Jordan. Roughly the same number are displaced within Iraq.

"I was very impressed by the fact that she was extremely well informed and well documented about the plight of refugees in Iraq and outside Iraq," de Mistura said after meeting Jolie for about 30 minutes.

"She asked how can all of us make sure that refugees are better treated," he said.

An Iraqi Red Crescent (IRC) report on Thursday said that the number of IDPs returning to their homes had slowed significantly because people were still worried about security.

A UNHCR report this week said the flow of refugees from Syria back to Iraq had also slowed, and that more Iraqis were leaving than returning. The IRC says 46,000 refugees returned from Syria between September 15 and December 27, 2007, far fewer than government figures indicate.

Iraqi officials, eager to play up signs of improving security, said last November that up to 1,600 were returning to Iraq daily, but now they say the situation is not clear and a more accurate survey is being planned.

The UNHCR report said most of those returning were doing so not because of improved security but because they could no longer afford to live in Syria.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

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