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Back from her latest trip to war ravaged Iraq as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Goodwill Ambassador, Angelina Jolie has a sense that the time is right to do something about the humanitarian crisis there. In her recent editorial to the Washington Post, Jolie explained the risks of non-action.

“We not only have a moral obligation to help displaced Iraqi families, but also a serious, long-term, national security interest in ending this crisis,” wrote Jolie. “Can the United States afford to gamble that 4 million or more poor and displaced people, in the heart of Middle East, won’t explode in violent desperation, sending the whole region into further disorder?”

Since the US invasion of Iraq, more than 2 million Iraqi civilians have been driven from their homes into perilous conditions, seeking shelter in abandoned buildings and primitive huts without food, clean water, or electricity. Over half of them are under the age of 12. Another 2.5 million have fled the country altogether, looking to Syria and Jordan for refuge. So great was the influx that the borders are now closed to refugees.

However, Jolie also sees opportunity. The actress has met with several key people in the US, UNHCR, and Iraqi government who all appear ready to do something. The army has offered protection to UNHCR staff and new efforts to address the humanitarian crisis, and UNHCR’s High Commissioner has promised to assess the conditions required for the return of refugees and providing humanitarian relief. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is also committed to overseeing issues related to internally displace people and financial support for the effort.

As for the refugee families, Jolie believes that all they want is “the chance to return to their homes and get back to their lives.” Even the troops “want to be a part of the humanitarian progress they now feel is possible.”

Because 4 million refugees will not be fast or easy to absorb, Jolie is adamant that the progress and momentum not be lost. “I would like to call on each of the presidential candidates and congressional leaders to announce a comprehensive refugee plan with a specific timeline and budget as part of their Iraq strategy. It seems to me that now is the moment to address the humanitarian side of this situation. Without the right support, we could miss an opportunity to do some of the good we always stated we intended to do.”

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