Actress Angelina Jolie visited the Za'atari refugee camp for Syrians on the Jordanian border on Tuesday. The camp holds 28,000 refugees, the UN reported in a statement, out of an estimated 85,000 total Syrian refugees currently registered or awaiting registration in Jordan.
"I am grateful to Jordan and other border countries for keeping their borders open, for saving these people's lives. They are dying in Syria," Jolie said to the assembled media. "If they were unable to escape with their families many of the people here, many of the people I met today would in fact be dead. It's an extraordinary thing that they are doing."
Jolie has been a UN Goodwill Ambassador since 2001, and was appointed UNHCR Special Envoy in April 2012.
On Monday night, Jolie met with a group of nearly 200 newly-escaped families who had just crossed the border, and listened to their tales of trauma and loss sustained while trying to escape the 18-month civil war, the UN High Council on Human Rights said in a statement. One man appeared, badly beaten, with his nine-year-old daughter, and told reporters that he escaped before being executed. Other refugees were unaccompanied minors.
Jolie said it was particularly difficult listening to children describe the horrific things they had seen or experienced. "They described body parts, separated, burnt people being pulled apart like chickens," she said.
The UN said that as the refugees crossed the border, shelling could be heard in Syria.
Jolie described the visit as "a heavy experience. "We have all been around and met with people in conflict situations," Jolie told the UN, "but rarely do you come when you meet them as they cross the border and you get to know people the moment they become a refugee, the moment they have lost their home, their schooling, their livelihoods, their education, everything that they have been is gone."
"When I asked them, 'what did you bring?' they say 'This,' and they show [their] back."
An estimated 2,000 new refugees arrive daily, and many are displaced internally five or six times before they manage to get out of the country, said the UNHCR..
"We encourage the international community to do everything it can to support these people, and to support them here until they can go home one day. There is much that needs to be done," Jolie continued.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said in a statement that "the visit was aimed at not only showing solidarity with refugees, but also to recognize the commitment of the Jordanian people and government to protect vulnerable civilians."
"Refugees tell us that artillery and air attacks are continuing in villages and towns close to the Jordanian border," Edwards said. "There are reports of thousands of displaced people in Syria's south, moving from village to village seeking safety before they can cross the border."
Jolie was accompanied by UNHCR High Commissioner Antonin Guterres, and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, who told UNHCR that, "until security and safety returns, we will keep our borders open and share with [the refugees] what we have."
Speaking to reporters at the camp, Jolie said, "It's impossible to imagine any mother standing by and not stepping up and doing something to prevent this," the BBC reported.
Jolie is the mother of six: three adopted children, and three biological children with her fiancé, Brad Pitt.
The UN also said that Guterres and Jolie are expected to meet King Abdullah II of Jordan, as well as the country's prime minister and foreign affairs ministers.