Jolie visits Syria refugees in Lebanon on war's 5th anniversary


Bekaa Valley (Lebanon) (AFP)

Hollywood star and UN refugee agency envoy Angelina Jolie on Tuesday met Syrian refugee families living in squalid conditions in Lebanon, on the fifth anniversary of the Syrian war.

"We should never forget that for all the focus on the refugee situation in Europe at this time, the greatest pressure is still being felt in the Middle East and North Africa, as it has for each of the last five years," she said.

Jolie met Khulud, a 38-year-old mother of four now living in a tent in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, who was left paralysed three years ago by a sniper in Syria, according to the UN refugee agency.

"Never once during our discussion did she ask for anything, did she stop smiling, or talk of anything other than her desire for her children to have the chance to go to school and have a better life," the actress and activist said.

"When I saw her beautiful smile, and her dedicated husband and children looking after her, I was in awe of them. They are heroes to me. And I ask myself, what have we come to when such survivors are made to feel like beggars?"

Jolie later visited Beirut "where she met a group of women living in poor conditions, a damp collective shelter, that left them and their families exposed to sickness," said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The star, who has visited Syrian refugees in Lebanon before, appealed to governments around the world to step up their assistance to the nearly five million people who have been forced by war to flee their country.

- 'Reason, calm, foresight' -

Jolie called for "reason and calm and foresight" in response to the international migrant crisis, which in 2015 saw more than one million asylum-seekers reach Europe's shores.

"We must not let fears get the better of us," she said, noting that tiny Lebanon alone has seen more than one million Syrians flow across the border since war erupted in 2011.

"We must not let fear stand in the way of an effective response that is in our long-term interests," she said.

"My plea today is that we need governments around the world to show leadership: to analyse the situation and understand exactly what their country can do... to explain this to their citizens and address fears -- based not on emotion but on a measured assessment of what can and must be done to share the responsibility and get on top of this situation."

Syria's war began as a peaceful pro-democracy movement that faced a brutal government crackdown in 2011.

It has since evolved into a brutal war that has pushed nearly five million people out of the country, and left 6.5 million others displaced inside it.