Angelina Jolie made her 61st mission as a UNHCR Special Envoy for the UN Refugee Agency on Saturday, visiting West Mosul, Iraq, less than a year after the city was liberated from three years of a brutal ISIS occupation.
While there, the Oscar-winning actress, 43, met with a local father and his three children, including his two young girls. In a photo exclusive to PEOPLE, the girls can be seen proudly showing off their school reports to Jolie.
“The girls I met talked about the years of not being able to go to school, and of seeing people killed, and of feeling too afraid to leave their houses,” Jolie said of meeting the family while speaking in front of the ruins of the Al-NuriMosque. “It is deeply upsetting that people who have endured unparalleled brutality have so little as they try, somehow, to rebuild the lives they once had.”
The conflict has devastated Mosul. The hundreds of thousands of people of the city were subjected to the horrors of war including explosions and shootings, and many residents were used as human shields and became targets as they tried to flea the city. Buildings among the narrow streets were bombed out while others were flattened. Overall, it was “the largest and longest urban battle since World War II,” UNHCR reported.
Jolie emphasized the need for recovery and reconstruction so that the people of Mosul — Iraq’s second-largest city — wouldn’t be forgotten.
UNHCR reports that at least 40,000 homes need to be restored or rebuilt. Over 2 million people have been displaced and 3.8 million are counted as returnees.
“This is the worst devastation I have seen in all my years working with UNHCR,” Jolie said. “People here have lost everything: their homes are destroyed. They are destitute. They have no medicine for their children, and many have no running water or basic services. They are still surrounded by bodies in the rubble. After the unimaginable trauma of the occupation, they are now trying to rebuild their homes, often with little or no assistance.”She added: “I recognize the great sacrifices made in the liberation of Mosul. I hope there will be a continued commitment to rebuilding and stabilizing the whole of the city. And I call on the international community not to forget Mosul, and not to turn their attention away from its people. We have learnt in Iraq before and elsewhere in the region the dangers of leaving a void. It is also what the families and survivors deserve.”
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Saturday’s trip was Jolie’s fifth visit to Iraq since 2001.
Her arrival in the Old City coincided with Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday which makes the conclusion of Ramadan.Though the city was liberated, fighting continues. Just five days prior, 27 people were killed and injured when an explosion went off in a boobie-trapped house in Old Mosul, UNHCR reported. ISIS militants dressed in black and carrying weapons were later seen leaving a hospital complex, though could not be caught.