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Angelina Jolie left 'speechless' by visit to Iraqi refugee camp

Angelina Jolie pleads for global action to help Iraqi and Syrian refugees in an impassioned op-ed piece published in Wednesday's New York Times.

'I have seen nothing like the suffering I'm witnessing now,' actress writes in a New York Times op-ed

Angelina Jolie delivers a speech during a visit to a camp for displaced Iraqis in Khanke, a few kilometres from the Turkish border in Iraq's Dohuk province, on Sunday. (Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)

Angelina Jolie is calling for more assistance and global action in the Middle East after she visited displaced Iraqis and Syrian refugees on Sunday.

In an impassioned op-ed published in Wednesday's New York Times, the 39-year-old actress, filmmaker and special envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, gave a dramatic retelling of her weekend tour of the Khanke refugee camp in northern Iraq, and how it has changed since her last visit in 2012.

"I have seen nothing like the suffering I'm witnessing now," wrote Jolie, who has visited Iraq on four previous occasions.

"For many years I have visited camps, and every time, I sit in a tent and hear stories. I try my best to give support. To say something that will show solidarity and give some kind of thoughtful guidance. On this trip I was speechless."

The United Nations estimates 3.3 million people are displaced in Iraq after more than a decade of conflict.

Khanke also houses 50,000 Syrian refugees who have fled nearly five years of fighting at home.

Reaching out to rape, torture victims

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      Jolie, who is raising six children with her husband, Hollywood actor Brad Pitt, describes being dumbfounded by the horrific stories from women and children who were victims of extreme violence such as rape and torture.

      "How can you speak when a woman your own age looks you in the eye and tells you that her whole family was killed in front of her?" Jolie wrote.

      "Nothing prepares you for the reality of so much individual human misery: for the stories of suffering and death, and the gaze of hungry, traumatized children."

      'Tinkering at the edges'

      The United Nations says it has assisted in the construction of 34 new camps in Iraq in the last six months. But the international body warns that serious funding shortfalls have impeded its ability to help survivors of violence and human rights abuses.

      In her N.Y. Times piece, Jolie points out that the UN's refugee agency is being stretched beyond its original intent to help people return to their homes after conflict because persistent unrest in Syria and Iraq means that millions may never make it home.

      She called for a multi-pronged solution: one that would see more support for countries supporting refugees and more money to fund UN humanitarian work. She also called on the entire international community "to find a path to a peace settlement." 

      "The plain fact is we cannot insulate ourselves against this crisis," Jolie declared. "The spread of extremism, the surge in foreign fighters, the threat of new terrorism — only an end to the war in Syria will begin to turn the tide on these problems. Without that, we are just tinkering at the edges." 

      The UN promoted Jolie to special envoy in 2012 after the actress served 10 years as UNHCR goodwill ambassador.

      In her time with the agency, Jolie has been on 50 field missions to more than 30 counties including Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Syria.

      Since 2001, Angelina Jolie has been on more than 50 UN field missions to more than 30 countries. Here, she meets with Syrian refugees in Lebanon in 2012. (Jason Tanner/UNHCR/Reuters)

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