Angelina Jolie, Antonio Guterres
Jason Tanner  /  AP
Actress and goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie, right, and the U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres, second from right, meet with migrants in Lampedusa, Italy, on Sunday.
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updated 6/19/2011 4:37:34 PM ET 2011-06-19T20:37:34

Angelina Jolie traveled to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa on Sunday to thank its residents for welcoming in the estimated 20,000 migrants who arrived after fleeing unrest in Tunisia and Libya.

Jolie, a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, toured a migrant holding center, chatted with some refugees and then participated in a ceremony at Lampedusa's memorial for migrants lost at sea as part of commemorations for World Refugee Day on Monday.

"It is very hard to imagine looking out at this beautiful sea how many people have risked their lives and how many people have risked their children's lives and so many of them have lost their lives at sea," she said.

She thanked the residents who gathered for the ceremony for welcoming the migrants in and asked them to consider how "horrible" their lives must have been that they would risk everything for the chance of a better life in Europe.

"Can you imagine how it must feel to finally cross in" to Italy? she asked. "For the coast guard to save them and carry them to safety, save their children's lives and give them a chance to survive and to have a future, and what it means to them," said Jolie, wearing a plain black blouse and jacket.

U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres also was on hand to urge Europe to continue keeping its doors open to refugees. Italy's center-right government has begrudgingly accepted the migrants. It has also struck deals with Tunisia and the Libyan opposition to return those who don't qualify for asylum.

Guterres said the debate in Europe about immigration "doesn't correspond to the reality," given that the number of African migrants who have arrived in Europe is a fraction of the numbers who have gone elsewhere, such as Tunisia or Egypt.

'A drop in the ocean'
"Obviously, for a small island like Lampedusa, to have such a large number of people coming is a huge pressure," he told reporters. "But for Europe as a whole, it is a drop in the ocean, and so I believe that with an adequate form of solidarity this challenge can be overcome."

Lampedusa, with a permanent population of 6,000, was overwhelmed this spring by waves of refugees fleeing the social uprising in Tunisia, with an estimated 20,000 arriving on the island, which is closer to Africa than mainland Italy. Boats continue to arrive from Libya, but eventually the refugees are transferred to holding centers elsewhere in Italy or sent back home unless they qualify for asylum.

Pope Benedict XVI urged countries to welcome refugees for as long as they need sanctuary in a message delivered Sunday while visiting the tiny republic of San Marino, itself founded in the early 4th century by a Christian refugee from Croatia.

"I invite civil authorities and every one of good will to guarantee a welcome and dignified living conditions for refugees until they can return to their countries freely and safely," Benedict said.

Yet as he spoke, members of Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government heated up the anti-immigrant rhetoric during an annual rally of the xenophobic Northern League party near the northern city of Bergamo.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni drew cheers from the crowd when he boasted of the hardline policies he has pushed through to return migrants back to their home countries.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Fleeing Libya: Refugees face peril

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  1. Men, who formerly worked in Libya, line up to board buses for a refugee camp near Ras Ajdir, Tunisia, on March 15, 2011. Since violent unrest broke out in Libya in February, more than 550,000 people, mostly migrant workers, have left Libya for neighboring countries, primarily Tunisia and Egypt, according to the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees. (Emilio Morenatti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A migrant worker from Ghana, who fled the unrest in Libya, carries her baby and belongings as they arrive in a refugee camp in Tunisia, about 4 miles from the border crossing at Ras Ajdir on March 21, 2011. Refugees faced an uncertain future in the crowded camps. The UN refugee agency described one camp in the area as having a "general atmosphere of lawlessness" that led to protests, and even deadly violence, over the extended stays. (Laura Leon Gomez / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Men, who used to work in Libya but fled the unrest there, are seen next to their tents in a refugee camp at the Tunisia-Libya border, in Ras Ajdir, Tunisia, on March 5, 2011. The sudden influx of tens of thousands of refugees left camps short of food, shelter and toilets. (Emilio Morenatti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A stranded foreign refugee reacts after being informed that his name is not on the passenger list of a ship evacuating wounded Libyans and refugees fleeing the war zone in Misrata, Libya, on April 20, 2011. International aid groups and foreign governments scrambled to provide needed transportation for workers fleeing the country's civil war. (Nasser Nasser / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A worker from Ghana, who fled the unrest in Libya, walks alongside a road after crossing from Libya into Tunisia at Ras Ajdir on March 19, 2011. Some workers had brief waits before being repatriated to their homeland, while others had to endure extended stays in crowded camps. (Emilio Morenatti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. African migrants and refugees flee the fighting in Misrata on April 27, 2011. They were on their way to be evacuated by an International Organization for Migration (IOM) ship bound for the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Migrants and Libyans aboard an International Organization of Migration ship depart the restive port city of Misrata on May 4, 2011. (Christophe Simon / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Children wait with their mother to disembark a ship in Benghazi, Libya, on April 15, 2011. The family evacuated Misrata amidst the fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Nearly 1,200 Asian and African migrants escaped from war-torn Misrata that day, evacuated by international aid organizations. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Rescuers help people who were forced into the sea after a boat carrying some 250 migrants from Libya crashed into rocks as they tried to enter the port of Pantelleria, an island off the southern coast of Italy, on April 13, 2011. Libya's civil war led to security lapses that have paved the way for African migrants to make often-deadly boat trips to Italy. (Francesco Malavolta / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A Libyan woman evacuated from Misrata weeps as she disembarks from the Turkish ship Ankara upon arrival at Benghazi port on April 21, 2011. (Marwan Naamani / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Egyptians try to board a bus as a Tunisian soldier tries to stop one of them at the Libya-Tunisia border in Ras Ajdir, Tunisia, on March 3, 2011. (Emilio Morenatti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A rebel fighter, right, hugs a refugee fleeing unrest in Libya at the southern Libya-Tunisia border crossing of Dehiba on April 22, 2011. Thousands of people fled worsening violence in Libya's western mountains through the border crossing near the southern Tunisian town of Dehiba. (Zoubeir Souissi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Rohan Muhammed, right, waits in the car after her family cleared customs to enter Egypt on March 17, 2011, at the border in Sallum, Egypt. The family left their home in Benghazi, Libya, because of the fighting. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Members of the Italian coast guard help refugees from Libya arrive on the island of Lampedusa, Italy, in the early hours of May 8, 2011. Thousands risked their lives to make the crossing to the Italian island. At one point the number of migrants exceeded Lampedusa's local population of less than 6,000. (Francesco Malavolta / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Italian police and coast guard officers carry an injured refugee as he arrives on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa on April 6, 2011. More than 250 people, including women and children, were missing after a boat carrying migrants capsized off the Italian island that day. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Migrants from North Africa line up for food and water on March 29, 2011, on Lampedusa island, Italy. The small Italian island, only about 70 miles from the African coast, quickly became overwhelmed with immigrants as the Libya crisis deepened. (Xinhua via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Libyan children attend classes in a tent at a refugee camp in Dehiba in southern Tunisia on May 23, 2011. An estimated 20,000 Libyan refugees have found shelter in Dehiba, a border town of 5,000, some in camps, most in the homes of strangers. Aid groups believe about 40,000 in total have fled into Tunisia's Tataouine province. (Anis Mili / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Men reach for bread behind barbed wire while waiting to enter Tunisia after fleeing Libya on Feb. 28, 2011, in Ras Ajdir, Tunisia. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A Libyan refugee who fled the unrest in Libya stands outside her tent at a refugee camp in Dehiba, near the southern Libya-Tunisia border crossing of Wazin on May 9, 2011. Tunisia, looking to rebound economically after its own revolution, was coping with an increasing refugee crisis. (Zohra Bensemra / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. An ophthalmologist examines the eyes of a Libyan refugee in a makeshift hospital tent at a refugee camp in Tataouine, Tunisia, on June 3, 2011. After brief stays in camps, many of the Libyan refugees were welcomed into the homes of Tunisian families. (Anis Mili / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A Bangladeshi migrant worker who fled the conflict in Libya reaches to catch his passport as it is returned on March 14, 2011 at a transit camp near the Ras Ajdir, Tunisia, border crossing with Libya. Each Bangladeshi migrant worker who received his passport back moved to the next stage: a bus trip to the airport to be repatriated to his homeland. (Ciro Fusco / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Displaced people sleep on the floor in the international departure lounge of the Djerba, Tunisia, airport on March 17, 2011. As the fighting escalated in Libya, tens of thousands of guest workers including men, women and children from Egypt, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Sudan and other countries fled to the border of Tunisia. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A clown entertains people near a refugee camp for displaced people in Ras Ajdir, Tunisia, on March 20, 2011. (Emilio Morenatti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Sudanese workers who fled Libya await news on their repatriation after crossing into Ras Ajdir, Tunisia, on March 22, 2011. (Emilio Morenatti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

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    The body of a drowned refugee floats near a capsized ship that originated from Libya. According to the United Nations refugee agency, the ship left Tripoli loaded with about 850 refugees, mostly from West Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh, on May 28, 2011 and ran aground and sank on June 1. Only 578 people survived, one of the deadliest incidents in the Mediterranean this year. (Lindsay Mackenzie / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Ukrainian Navy sailors welcome refugees from Libya in Sevastopol, on April 11, 2011. The Ukrainian navy ship Konstantin Olshanskiy transported 113 refugees, including 85 Ukrainians, to safety. (Andrew Lubimov / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A passenger kisses the ground and prays after disembarking from the Ukrainian navy ship Konstantin Olshanskiy in Valletta, Malta, on April 5, 2011. The ship carried 193 workers of various nationalities and their families out of Libya. Among the workers were 22 Britons and 20 Americans, who were picked up from the Tripoli area. (Darrin Zammit Lupi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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