April 9th, 2008 07:10 EST
Iraqi Children have a friend in Angelina Jolie
By Cindy Saine
Actress Angelina Jolie has highlighted the plight of the some four million people who have been displaced by the ongoing violence in Iraq, saying about 50 percent of them are children. Speaking at a Council on Foreign Relations forum in Washington, Jolie said that while Iraq has a history of a high quality, free education system, millions of Iraqi children have little or no access to education today.
Jolie again used her star power to speak out for children in war zones, on the day the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus testified before congressional committees.
Asked about her view of how the surge of additional American troops has impacted Iraqi children, Jolie said military action must go hand in hand with aid.
"I would think even [General David] Petraeus would agree that a surge does not just mean it works if you get numbers of violence down," said Angelina Jolie. "It works if humanitarian aid is starting to increase and changes are able to be made."
Half of the four million Iraqis forced out of their homes are internally displaced. Tens of thousands have fled to Syria and Jordan, and much smaller numbers of Iraqi refugees are in Egypt and Lebanon.
The president of the International Rescue Committee, George Rupp, said he had met with many Iraqi families seeking shelter in Syria and Jordan. He said despite the tremendous efforts of those two countries, the situation for the refugees is deplorable.
"We met with these refugees, many of whom had been middle-class and educated citizens back in Iraq," said George Rupp. "We met with them in cold, crowded rooms in the poorest sections of Amman and Damascus, where they are now concentrated."
He said Jordan and Syria have stretched their own already overcrowed schools to the limits and that relief efforts to build more schools and provide more books should include local children in host countries.
Jolie said the vast majority of Iraqi children have been traumatized by the horrors of war and now have special needs.
"These children are also traumatized," she said. "One in every five Iraqi registered in Syria is registered as a victim of torture or extreme violence. There was also a study done, that not surprisingly, 92 percent of the children in Iraq had learning impediments, due to a climate of fear."
Jolie said there are no easy solutions to improve access to education in Iraq, but efforts should focus on improving education infrastructure for refugees in host countries, providing books and supplies, recruiting teachers and integrating school dropouts, especially girls.