Angelina Jolie visits Syrian refugees in Turkey
Updated: 2011-06-19 15:03
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie waves as she leaves from a Syrian refugee camp in the southern Turkish town of Altinozu in Hatay province June 17, 2011.[Photo/Agencies]
ALTINOZU, Turkey – U.N. envoy Angelina Jolie traveled to Turkey's border with Syria on Friday, sharing fruit and dessert with some of the thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled their government's bloody crackdown.
The Hollywood celebrity and goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees arrived in the Turkish province of Hatay on a private jet with boxes of toys for the refugee camps and visited one of the three refugee camps in Turkey, where nearly 10,000 Syrians have sought refuge.
Jolie spent two-and-a-half hours with about 1,700 refugees at a camp in Altinozu, 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from the Syrian border, asking how they were in Arabic and then speaking with them through an interpreter, Turkey's NTV television reported. It said she took notes, showing particular interest in the women and children.
"The people in this camp have fled in fear for their lives, and many told me they were distraught about the safety of loved ones still in Syria." Jolie said in a UNHCR statement.
Jolie met with one woman who managed to leave Syria heavily pregnant, and has since given birth to her child in the camp, the statement said. She told how her husband had been killed. Another distraught woman told Jolie how she was sick with worry about the fate of her husband still in Syria and unable to cross the border.
"The woman claimed her husband was one of many, too afraid to cross," Jolie added.
The American actress praised Turkey for welcoming the refugees, saying it is critical in these situations that people have access to safety.
"I am really grateful for the open-door policy of Turkey in allowing these people to enter and the assurances that there will be no forced returns," she said.
A mob of children chanted "look who is here", and "welcome, welcome" as they pushed forward to shake Jolie's hand, the statement said. Many had slogans such as "freedom" painted on their foreheads.
"I appreciate the opportunity to visit this camp and talk to these families," Jolie said. "It is a really complex situation and everyone needs to be doing all they can for the innocent families caught in the crossfire. I will be following this situation very closely and doing everything I can."
Jolie praised Turkey for showing "tremendous generosity to the thousands fleeing Syria" and the Turkish Red Crescent, the Muslim equivalent of the Red Cross, for setting up camps very quickly and providing medical and other care.
The UNHCR said it "stands ready to assist if the situation starts to escalate."
Protests first erupted in Syria in mid-March as part of the "Arab Spring" push toward democracy. Syrian President Bashar Assad responded by unleashing the military to crush the street demonstrations. Human rights activists say more than 1,400 Syrians have been killed and 10,000 detained.
Turkish television showed Jolie disembarking from the plane in sunglasses at Hatay airport. She then headed to a camp in Altinozu.
Turkish authorities hoisted a 45-foot-long (15-meter) banner near the entrance of the refugee camp to welcome Jolie. It read: "Goodness Angel of the World, Welcome" in English and Turkish.
An anti-Syria protest broke out at the camp hours before Jolie arrived in a gray van with tinted-windows. Protesters could be seen carrying a white coffin with that read "The Society of Arab states" on one side and "The Conscience of Russia and China" on the other.
They waved Turkish and Syrian flags and held up banners that said: "Stop the killing of children and the destruction of mosques." They could also be heard shouting messages of thanks for Turkey.
Police kept both fans and media away from the actress at Hatay's airport and most cameras were removed from rooftops and high points.
One fan held a poster that read: "Angelina, kiss me for world peace." Hundreds of people, mostly women, climbed rooftops and crowded balconies and waited under scorching sun for hours to catch a glimpse of her.
Jolie waved at her fans before getting back into the van to be driven to the airport in a security motorcade.
In April, Jolie traveled to Tunisia during its refugee crisis as thousands fled from its war-torn neighbor, Libya.
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