Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visits refugees in Turkey

Press Releases, 17 June 2011

Hatay Province, Turkey, 17 June (UNHCR) UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie traveled on Friday to Turkey's border with Syria, meeting with many of the refugees who have fled their country in recent weeks.

The flight of civilians from the northwest of Syria has picked up considerably in the last two weeks. There are now more than 9600 people living in four camps managed by Turkey with the Turkish Red Crescent.

Accompanied by UNHCR staff and Turkish government officials, Jolie visited the ALTINOZU camp in Hatay province, 20 kilometres from the Syrian border.

Some 1700 Syrians have found shelter there. "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.

Jolie met with one woman who managed to leave Syria heavily pregnant, and has since given birth to her child in the camp. 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.

A mob of children chanted "look who is here", and "welcome, welcome" as they pushed forward to shake Jolie's hand. 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."

"The Government of Turkey and the Turkish Red Crescent have shown tremendous generosity to the thousands fleeing Syria. The Red Crescent has set up camps really quickly and provided medical and other care. And UNHCR stands ready to assist if the situation starts to escalate."

Ahead of her mission UNHCR received dozens of email messages thanking her for her planned visit to the Turkish-Syrian border and her support for the displaced. The refugees living in ALTINOZU camp greeted her with enthusiastic chanting.

Meanwhile the Goodwill Ambassador highlighted the relevance of UNHCR's new global campaign dubbed "1 is too many" to the unfolding crisis.

"In the campaign we highlighted the fact that one refugee without shelter is too many, and in this latest displacement crisis we are seeing thousands in need and there may be many more in Syria yet to receive help. These people deserve and need our help." she added.

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António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Beyond the Border

In 2010, the Turkish border with Greece became the main entry point for people attempting by irregular methods to reach member states of the European Union, with over 132,000 arrivals. While some entered as migrants with the simple wish of finding a better life, a significant number fled violence or persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. The journey is perilous, with many reports of drowning when people board flimsy vessels and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the River Evros on the border between Greece and Turkey. The many deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are exacerbated by the pressure of tens of thousands of people awaiting asylum hearings. Reception facilities for new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are woefully inadequate. Last year, UNHCR visited a number of overcrowded facilities where children, men and women were detained in cramped rooms with insufficient facilities. UNHCR is working with the Greek government to improve its asylum system and has called upon other European states to offer support.

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