Angelina Jolie visited refugees from North America, including those fleeing the strife in Libya, detained in Lampedusa, a small Italian island on Sunday, June 19.
She was accompanied by UNHCR chief António Guterres who appealed to European countries to accept the people coming from Africa, especially those fleeing violence in Libya.
The refugees, referred to as boat people, include unaccompanied minors.
More than 40,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean in overcrowded boats and reached Lampedusa so far this year. A further 1,500 have died in the attempt.
Jolie and Guterres visited the Porta d'Europa – a stone gateway on a headland next to the sea.
Speaking on the occasion, Jolie said:
"When I think of these people, these families, I try to imagine what would bring someone – for example a mother with children – to make this journey. What kind of a life she must have lived, what she must have suffered, to be brought to a point where her last resort is to step onto an overcrowded rickety boat.
"What must her life be like that the best alternative is to risk drowning and suffocation . . . only to be brought to a new country where she may be turned away. Sent back to sea.
"Very few of us here today can even begin to understand what kind of painful existence she must have led."
Earlier in the day Jolie met asylum-seekers at two locations in Malta.