DAMASCUS, Syria – Angelina Jolie saw firsthand the plight of conflict refugees stranded in the blazing desert near the Syrian-Iraqi border in a visit this week to highlight their ordeal.
The American actress, who is a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, traveled to Syria and Iraq on Monday and Tuesday, the agency said in a statement. Jolie also separately visited U.S. troops in the area.
"I have come to Syria and Iraq to help draw attention to this humanitarian crisis and to urge governments to increase their support for UNHCR and its partners," Jolie was quoted as saying by the Geneva-based agency on Tuesday.
She headed home from Syria on Wednesday according to UNHCR officials, after a visit wrapped in secrecy and with no media coverage.
The 32-year-old star of the movie "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" traveled to the al-Waleed refugee camp on the Iraqi side of the border and spoke to some of the 1,200 refugees stranded there, prevented from entering Syria, UNCHR said.
"It is absolutely essential that the ongoing debate about Iraq's future includes plans for addressing the enormous humanitarian consequences these people face," she said.
The camp is in a no man's land between the two countries, one mile from the Iraqi border post and 4.5 miles from the Syrian border.
Jolie, who wore a blue flak jacket and a helmet when she arrived unannounced at the camp, was not immediately recognized by many of the refugees, a large number of whom are Palestinians who have been stranded in the desert encampment since December.
Unlike Iraqis, who are allowed to enter and settle in Syria, Palestinian residents of Iraq are mostly prevented from entering the country, leaving them stranded at the border.
Jolie spent two hours there talking with the refugees through a translator, taking notes, all the while surrounded by bodyguards, according to Qusai Mohammed Saleh, 33, a Palestinian refugee.
"I didn't recognize her right away, but after she was introduced as Angelina Jolie, I remembered a little, from some of her movies," he told The Associated Press by phone from the camp.
"She did not like the tragic situation," Saleh said, adding that she inspected the camp's medical and hygiene facilities.
Fellow refugee Awad Talha Awad, 48, said he had hopes the visit would make a difference. "Our situation is so difficult," he said, adding that Jolie was "moved" by some of the conditions she witnessed.
"She felt the sun," he said of the raging midday summer temperatures. "She did not make any promises but she said, 'we will make an effort to resolve your situation."'
UNHCR estimates that more than 4.2 million Iraqis have been displaced since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, and of these, about two million have fled to neighboring countries, mainly Syria and Jordan, placing a heavy strain on their resources.
Last month, the agency launched an appealed together with UNICEF for almost $130 million to help provide an education to displaced Iraqi children across the Middle East.
Jolie has worked with UNHCR since early 2001. In May, a foundation set up by Jolie and fellow actor Brad Pitt donated $1 million to help those affected by the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region and neighboring Chad.