The agony of Syrians and Iraqis who can’t go home

Excerpts of a NY Times Op Ed by Angelina Jolie:

I have visited Iraq five times since 2007, and I have seen nothing like the suffering I’m witnessing now. … In almost four years of war, nearly half of Syria’s population of 23 million people has been uprooted. … 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.

What do you say to a mother with tears streaming down her face who says her daughter is in the hands of the Islamic State, or ISIS?

What do you say to the 13-year-old girl who describes the warehouses where she and the others lived and would be pulled out, three at a time, to be raped by the men?

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, and that she now lives alone in a tent and has minimal food rations?

I met a family of eight children. No parents. Father killed. Mother missing, most likely taken. The 19-year-old boy is the sole breadwinner. When I comment that it is a lot of responsibility for his age, he just smiles and puts his arm around his young sister. He tells me he is grateful he has the opportunity to work and help them. He means it. He and his family are the hope for the future. They are resilient against impossible odds.

Syria’s neighbors have taken in nearly four million Syrian refugees, but they are reaching their limits. Syrian refugees now make up 10 percent of Jordan’s population. In Lebanon, every fourth person is now a Syrian. This means fewer resources available for local people.

Who can blame these refugees for thinking that we have given up on them? Only a fraction of the humanitarian aid they need is being provided. There has been no progress on ending the war in Syria since the Geneva process collapsed 12 months ago. Syria is in flames, and areas of Iraq are gripped by fighting. The doors of many nations are bolted against them. There is nowhere they can turn.

The plain fact is we cannot insulate ourselves against this crisis. 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.

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