UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie is visiting Lebanon to highlight the plight of Syrian children, and to thank the Lebanese people for assisting refugees as the conflict enters its fourth year. On her three-day visit, which began this weekend, she met refugee families and held talks with President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Tammam Salam.
Ms. Jolie welcomed the adoption of UN Security Council 2139 on Humanitarian Assistance to Syria, which she described as "a long overdue step in the right direction for the hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrian men, women and children trapped in hard to reach areas across Syria." The Special Envoy emphasized the need for the resolution to be more than just a paper declaration: "It must be implemented – and that will take political will and courage. The unity that the Council has shown must not be a one-off, but the start of a new phase in ending the conflict."
Ms. Jolie met orphaned Syrian children who fled to Lebanon and who are now living in the Bekaa Valley. There are 3,500 unaccompanied children, or children who have been separated from their families, now known to be living in Lebanon. Ms. Jolie said: "Meeting these children was a heart-rending experience. They have lost their families and their childhood has been hijacked by war. They are so young, yet they are bearing the burdens of their reality as if they are adults."
Access to education is one of many of the challenges faced by the refugee population. Syrian refugees struggle to maintain their shelter, pay the rent and access water. She met one little boy who expressed a wish to be a doctor when he grows up. His siblings started to laugh, explaining that he doesn't understand what has happened to him. "How can he become a doctor in an empty tent?" they asked.
Throughout the visit, Ms. Jolie stressed the vital contribution that Lebanon is making as the recipient of the largest share of refugees from the crisis. With the number of registered refugees nearing the one million mark, Lebanon has the highest per capita concentration of refugees of any country in recent history. If the US were to welcome a comparable number of refugees relative to its population size, it would be sheltering 75 million people.
The Special Envoy discussed the humanitarian crisis with President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Tammam Salam. She paid tribute to Lebanon for generously receiving refugees despite its own internal challenges. "The generosity and solidarity shown by Lebanon and Lebanese to its neighbor serves as an example to the world for which we should all be grateful. We all need to help them bear this burden," said Ms. Jolie.
Ms. Jolie's visit to Lebanon is her third on behalf of UNHCR. She was last in the country in September 2012.