Jason Tanner/UNHCR/AP
Peter Mikelbank
June 20, 2011 09:20 AM

Angelina Jolie visited two islands in the southern Mediterranean Sea on Sunday to highlight the refugee crisis in the region, which is absorbing an unprecedented wave of asylum seekers fleeing starvation and political upheaval in Africa.

Two days after meeting with Syrian refugees in southern Turkey, the actress paid a surprise visit to a temporary detention center on Malta, where she and her family are currently residing. From Malta, she flew to the Italian island of Lampedusa, where she participated in a ceremony commemorating those who have died trying to reach safety.

Jolie, 36, the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, met with women and couples at two recently opened refugee facilities near Malta’s airport, according to local newspaper Malta Today. ” ‘I just want freedom,’ they all said,” the paper quoted Jolie as saying.

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She added: “Malta has saved many lives, but it is the daily conditions on the ground that are of most concern. We’ve spent time today speaking with the government and will spend more time talking about how, together, we can make the conditions more humane, especially for the children.”

Inspecting housing conditions, Jolie said: “We’ve spoken about our shared concerns about making sure asylum claims are processed as quickly as possible so no-one is sitting in a prison-like situation and waiting on a decision about their status.”

According to UNHCR statistics, almost 1 million people have left Libya since that country’s crisis began, and more than 16,000 people have attempted to flee by crossing the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and makeshift rafts.

For World Refugee Day on Monday, a number of the world’s monuments, including New York’s Empire State Building and Rome’s Colosseum, will be lit up in United Nations blue.

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