• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

'The Kite Runner' author, Khaled Hosseini, experiences Chad's insecurity

News Stories, 13 February 2007

© UNHCR/T.Irwin
Khaled Hosseini (far left) visits a woman injured during a recent shooting at the Kounoungou camp in eastern Chad.

GUEREDA, Chad, February 13 (UNHCR) Khaled Hosseini, author of the best-selling novel The Kite Runner, got a first-hand glimpse of the insecurity plaguing eastern Chad during a recent tour of UNHCR operations in the region.

His visit to the Kounoungou camp, home to 13,000 Sudanese refugees who fled violence in neighbouring Darfur, had to be cut short after an exchange of fire between a Chadian soldier and a former rebel left two people dead.

The violence is severely hampering humanitarian activities in eastern Chad by disrupting access to refugee and internally displaced populations and putting additional strains on field teams which have already been reduced in numbers due the security situation.

Hosseini was able to continue his fact-finding mission with a visit to the nearby Mile camp, which hosts more than 15,000 Sudanese refugees.

For the author, the trip was the result of his desire to see first-hand one of UNHCR's largest and most complex operations. He also wanted to use his experiences to bring wider attention to the Darfur crisis in the United States, where the non-profit organisation, USA for UNHCR, is running a fund-raising campaign entitled: Aid Darfur.

Before travelling to the camps, Hosseini who was last year named a Goodwill Envoy for the UN refugee agency in the United States received an exuberant welcome from a group of dancers and musicians in the village of Senere, site of a school constructed by UNHCR for the local community. The project, and others like it, benefit host populations and are designed to lessen the impact of large refugee numbers in areas where resources are in short supply.

Yacoub Abdullah has lived in Kounoungou for two years, but he remembers the events of the day that drove him to the camp as though they were a nightmare he had just awoken from. "In the morning we saw men on horses with guns," he told Hosseini inside his small mud house. "They first set fire to our houses and then they began shooting. Girls, boys, old men, the guns did not know the difference."

For seven months Abdullah lived in a grove of trees on the Chad-Sudan border with his wife and their 10 children. His livestock died, leaving the family with no possessions. In early 2004, a team from UNHCR found the family and brought them to the Kounoungou camp where Yacoub is now a school administrator.

As well as visiting classrooms in both camps, Hosseini met with community elders and members of a women's support group for victims of sexual violence. Many of the refugee women report that they were sexually assaulted during the attacks on their villages.

Others have been abused as they gather firewood beyond the security of the camps. In order to lessen the need for firewood, an organisation working with UNHCR has developed a fuel efficient stove which uses 80 percent less wood.

"Coming here and talking to people living in these camps has brought home for me the enormity of the tragedy that has driven these people from Darfur across the border into eastern Chad," said Hosseni. "People's villages are burnt, their friends and family and relatives are butchered, their homes and property are lost and they have to walk for days to get to the Chadian border, where they try to survive with very limited resources until they are brought over to the camps."

The insecurity in eastern Chad is being felt both inside and outside the camps. Humanitarian workers must now travel in a convoy and use a police escort to visit both Kounoungou and Mile.

"We have also seen an increase in violence inside the camps," said Jorge Holly Prantl, head of UNHCR's office in Guéréda. "We have had reports of forced recruitment of young men from the camp as well as some armed elements inside the camp. For the first time since it opened two years ago, two refugees were killed recently in Kounoungou."

Hosseini heard several first-hand accounts of the dangers faced by aid workers in the region as he met staff from UNHCR and its partner organisations, such as the International Medical Corps. "One of the things that struck me is that they render these services at great risk to their own well-being. They're being victimised by banditry. They've been carjacked. And some of them have had guns and knives pointed at their heads. Nevertheless, they continue working tirelessly to meet the needs of the refugees in Darfur."

UNHCR runs 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad, hosting more than 200,000 people. A further 2 million people are internally displaced within Darfur.

By Tim Irwin in Guéréda, Chad

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Barbara Hendricks and UNHCR

Hendricks' activities for refugees since 1986.

Barbara Hendricks Biography

Read about Hendricks' life and career.

Muazzez Ersoy Biography

A Turkish singing delight.

George Dalaras Biography

A star among the pantheon of stars.

George Dalaras and UNHCR

Read about Dalaras's long link with UNHCR.

Muazzez Ersoy and UNHCR

Learn about Muazzez Ersoy's links with UNHCR.

Khaled Hosseini Biography

Acclaimed American author Khaled Hosseini knows what it's like to be a refugee.

Khaled Hosseini and UNHCR

Read about Khaled Hosseini's support for UNHCR.

Author Hosseini in Afghanistan

UNHCR Goodwill Envoy Khaled Hosseini visited Afghanistan in early September and saw first-hand one of the UN refugee agency's largest and most complex operations. During a 10-day trip, the best-selling author visited UNHCR projects and met returnees in the northern provinces of Kunduz, Baghlan, Balkh, Parwan and Kabul. Hosseini, a former Afghan refugee now settled in the United States, noted that it would take time and effort for Afghanistan to provide returnees with adequate infrastructure and services. He urged the international community to remain committed to Afghanistan and to give the country time. Hosseini could not visit the south and parts of the east, where insecurity is impacting on the ability of UNHCR to assess needs and provide assistance to those who need it the most. Since 2003, UNHCR has helped more than 4 million refugees return to Afghanistan. This year, some 300,000 Afghan refugees have returned from Pakistan. More than 900,000 remain in Iran and 2 million in Pakistan.

Author Hosseini in Afghanistan

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

Crisis in the Central African Republic

Little has been reported about the humanitarian crisis in the northern part of the Central African Republic (CAR), where at least 295,000 people have been forced out of their homes since mid-2005. An estimated 197,000 are internally displaced, while 98,000 have fled to Chad, Cameroon or Sudan. They are the victims of fighting between rebel groups and government forces.

Many of the internally displaced live in the bush close to their villages. They build shelters from hay, grow vegetables and even start bush schools for their children. But access to clean water and health care remains a huge problem. Many children suffer from diarrhoea and malaria but their parents are too scared to take them to hospitals or clinics for treatment.

Cattle herders in northern CAR are menaced by the zaraguina, bandits who kidnap children for ransom. The villagers must sell off their livestock to pay.

Posted on 21 February 2008

Crisis in the Central African Republic

Iraq: Khaled Hosseini VisitPlay video

Iraq: Khaled Hosseini Visit

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Khaled Hosseini, a former refugee from Afghanistan, met Syrian refugees during a trip to northern Iraq. The best-selling novelist talked to many of the refugees, including an aspiring young writer.
Khaled HosseiniPlay video

Khaled Hosseini

Take 1 minute to support a family forced to flee
Chad: Health for allPlay video

Chad: Health for all

Refugees in southern Chad receive health care under a European Union-funded programme. A new clinic tackles malaria, malnutrition, respiratory infections and more.