Why are Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in Syria?

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were in Syria to support the UNHCR's efforts to help Iraqi refugees.

S. Malkawi / UNHCR
UNHCR ambassador and actor Angelina Jolie meets with Iraqi refugees in Damascus, Syria.

Brad and Angelina were in Syria on Friday.

Most major charities and NGOs have their celebrity ambassadors – mostly because the cameras follow them. And attention – any attention – can mean funds and/or political support for their causes. The United Nation’s High Commission for Refugees is no exception. Angelina Jolie has been working with the UNHCR since 2001. This isn’t a new gig for her. And this wasn’t her first trip to Syria to highlight the plight of Iraqi refugees. She was there in 2007, too. She’s been to Iraq three times.

On this trip, she and Brad met with Syrian president Bashar Assad and his wife, Asma, the UNHCR said. She also visited two Iraqi families living in one of Damascus’ poorest neighborhoods.

One family fled to Syria in July after their son was twice kidnapped for ransom, and his mother was assaulted. One UNHCR photo shows Jolie in tears as the mother describes her ordeal. “I wanted to kill myself and the only reason I decided not to go ahead is because of my children,” she told Jolie.

Jolie said after the meeting: “It is clear that the Syrian people, no matter the challenges or difficulties they may face, have always shown generous hospitality to people in need. I hope that the rest of the world recognizes that we all have to share this burden and continue to take care of Iraqi refugees.”

Indeed, that hospitality has come at a price. As we reported, the influx in Iraq refugees has driven up housing prices in Syria and Jordan.

The UNHCR estimates more that 4.2 million Iraqis have left their country since the start of the Iraq war in 2003. Some have started to return. Currently, the UNHCR is providing food and other support for 215,000 Iraqis in Syria. There are another 54,000 Iraqis living in Jordan.

Since Jolie visited three Iraqi families in Syria two years ago, one family has returned to Iraq, and two have joined more than 25,000 Iraqi refugees who have been allowed to migrate to the US in the past three years. Prior to 2006, only 202 Iraqis were allowed into the US. But as we reported in June, life in the US for Iraqi refugees can be difficult.

The cynic will say that Brad and Angelina are just polishing their professional images, doing good in front of the cameras. Does the help exceed the hype? We asked that question about celebrity activities in Africa. Check it out here.

One final question: Would you have read about Iraqi refugees in Syria without the Brangelina hook?

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