Angelina Jolie Gets Blessing as She Visits Peru to Meet ‘Brave’ Displaced Venezuelan Refugees
The Oscar winner, 43, is currently undertaking a three-day mission to assess the humanitarian needs of Venezuelan refugees, as well as the challenges facing Peru as a host country.
In a photo exclusive to PEOPLE, Jolie is seen visiting a local soup kitchen in Tumbes, Peru, where about 2,000 Venezuelans arrive in the country every day through the northern border. Jolie also received a blessing from a local nun, Sister Sofia of the Daughters of Saint Anne. The organization has turned its convent into a soup kitchen that feeds hundreds of refugees each day.
Jolie gave a press conference on Tuesday after speaking to Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra, where she highlighted the devastation facing Venezuelans and their desperation to seek a better life.
“Every Venezuelan I met described the situation in their country as desperate,” she said. “I heard stories of people dying because of a lack of medical care and medicine, cancer patients whose chemotherapy was abruptly stopped, diabetes sufferers without access to insulin, children without basic antibiotics, people starving, and tragic accounts of violence and persecution.”
She continued, “None of the Venezuelans I met want charity. They want an opportunity to help themselves. The message that I heard consistently was, ‘We didn't want to leave, we had to leave.' After having spoken to so many people, it is clear to me that this is not movement by choice.”
Jolie went on to praise the people of Peru and President Vizcarra for their “generous and resilient response to this difficult situation,” and for helping the Venezuelan refugees achieve legal status.
“At a time when fundamental principles are being questioned, it is more important than ever that we have the systems and resources in place to identify people with genuine refugee and asylum claims, and to make sure that they have the support that they need,” Jolie said. “It is crucial to reinforce the rule of law, respect for human rights, international protection and asylum systems.”
She concluded, “I have been deeply touched by the dignity and strength of the Venezuelan refugees I have met on this visit, and by the warmth and generosity of the Peruvian people. Thank you very much for welcoming me to your beautiful country. Tu causa es mi causa [Your cause is my cause].”
The day before her press conference, Jolie told PEOPLE: “I was honored to meet and speak with so many brave Venezuelans, and humbled by the generosity of the sisters of the Daughters of Saint Anne,” Jolie said.
In the exclusive images, the mother of six is pictured surrounded by Venezuelan refugees as they describe their stories of exhaustion and hunger. In another photo, Jolie listens to a local Peruvian volunteer explain how the community of Tumbes came together to support the refugees and migrants.
The surge of Venezuelan refugees and migrants has been called the largest movement of people in Latin America‘s recent history, according to a press release obtained by PEOPLE.
Over two million Venezuelans have left their country since 2015, and over 450,000 of them have found their way to Peru, according to the UNHCR.
Peru has become the top destination country for Venezuelans seeking refugee protection status with over 150,000 asylum requests.
During her visit, Jolie will also be also meeting with representatives from the Peruvian government, as well as organizations contributing aid.
The actress last visited Latin America in 2012 during a humanitarian mission to Ecuador — her third visit to meet then-Colombian refugees in the region.