Angelina Jolie offers hope to Iraqi refugees

BAGHDAD: Hollywood megastar and UN goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie on Thursday visited a refugee camp in Baghdad for Iraqis displaced by the war, the UN refugee agency said.

Jolie toured the Chikouk camp in northern Baghdad's Kadhimiyah neighbourhood as part of a one-day visit to Iraq, UNHCR spokeswoman Abeer Etefa told AFP.

Jolie called for more aid for Iraq's internally-displaced people and said she hoped that the Iraqi government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will provide the refugees with new accommodation.

"This is a moment where things seem to be improving on the ground, but Iraqis need a lot of support and help to rebuild their lives," Jolie said during the visit.

"The picture in this camp is a rough one but there are also some people that were able to return home to other safer areas.

"There are some changes. There are returns of displaced people, not a big number but there is progress." She told the camp's residents that she wanted "to come back and find you in a better place and in a different situation." Chikouk is home to around 12,000 internally-displaced people, most of whom are Shiite Muslims from the predominantly Sunni town of Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, who fled fearing for their lives during the sectarian violence that engulfed the country in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion.

Residents of the camp sleep in poorly-constructed shelters on bumpy ground with surrounding streets piled high with litter.

The camp only recently received access to clean water but has no electricity supply, functioning sewerage system nor regular rubbish disposal. Many residents suffer health problems.

Jolie was on her third visit to Iraq since she became a volunteer for the United Nations goodwill programme in 2001.

The UNHCR is the only organisation providing any services to the camp, although local authorities co-ordinate with the refugee agency to help deliver water and non-food items.

The agency estimates that 1.6 million Iraqis were internally displaced by sectarian fighting that flared in 2006.