Laura Bush and Angelina Jolie Speak Out on Afghanistan and How to Help: 'Never Look Away'

The former first lady and the actress/humanitarian shared with PEOPLE their fears for Afghans in a country again under militant rule — and what the world can do

Laura Bush, Angelina Jolie
Laura Bush (left) and Angelina Jolie. Photo: Jason Kempin/FilmMagic; Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty

Former First Lady Laura Bush and Angelina Jolie share a common cause in the push for equality in Afghanistan — Bush from her time in the White House and Jolie as part of her huminatarian work.

Now, as numerous Afghans seek refuge from the Taliban in the wake of the withdrawal of U.S. troops, both are speaking out about the turmoil and what the international community can do.

The Oscar-winning actress and humanitarian, 46, recently joined Instagram where she dedicated her first post to sharing a letter sent to her from a teen girl in Afghanistan.

"Right now, the people of Afghanistan are losing their ability to communicate on social media and to express themselves freely," Jolie wrote. "So I've come on Instagram to share their stories and the voices of those across the globe who are fighting for their basic human rights."

Afghanistan evacuations
People wait to board a plane at Kabul International Airport in August, 2021. MSgt Donald R Allen/AP/Shutterstock

* For more voices on the end of the Afghanistan war, including refugees and veterans, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week's issue, on newsstands now.

The 74-year-old Bush has also spoken out about the unfolding situation in the country. In a joint statement with former President George W. Bush, who first invaded the country 20 years ago, the couple shared their "deep sadness" following the Taliban's resurgence.

"The Afghans now at greatest risk are the same ones who have been on the forefront of progress inside their nation," President Bush said, speaking on behalf of him and his wife.

He continued, "The United States government has the legal authority to cut the red tape for refugees during urgent humanitarian crises. And we have the responsibility and the resources to secure safe passage for them now, without bureaucratic delay."

As the U.S. continues evacuation efforts in the country, and amid widespread skepticism that the Taliban will rule less harshly than when it was last in power, the actress and the former first lady shared with PEOPLE their fears for Afghans in a country again under militant rule — and what the world can do to help.

Angelina Jolie, special envoy for the U.N. Refugee Agency

"When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan, they kept women shut in their homes, banned them from going to school and silenced their voices. We don't know if the Taliban have changed, but the world has," Jolie tells PEOPLE. "We have new tools and technologies. We are connected globally in ways we never have been before. We have an opportunity to make that count: to stay alongside the people of Afghanistan who are struggling to stay hopeful and are desperate to avoid new levels of violence and persecution in their country.

"We can keep ourselves informed and track what is happening to Afghan human rights advocates, to make it harder for abuses to be hidden. We can support humanitarian organizations working there. And we can ask Afghans what support they need and help them to get their messages out."

Laura Bush, honorary co-chair of the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council

"Twenty years ago the eyes of the world turned to Afghanistan and shed light on the unimaginable horror inflicted on the Afghan people by the Taliban. The events unfolding [there] now are all too familiar. My heart is heavy for the Afghan people, who have lost so much, especially the women and girls," Mrs. Bush says.

"Like our country, Afghanistan is made up of resilient, vibrant people. President Bush and I stand by to lend them our support and assistance. Let us be united in saving lives by evacuating those who stood by America and those who bravely worked to create a free and open society in Afghanistan for all of its citizens. In the midst of unspeakable tragedy, we must resolve to never look away."

If you would like to support those in need during the upheaval in Afghanistan, consider:

* Donating to UNICEF to aid Afghans in the country or

Donating to the International Refugee Assistance Project to help those fleeing.

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