Words of support for UNHCR as Kite Runner author publishes new novel

News Stories, 22 May 2007

© UNHCR/T.Irwin
Author and UNHCR Goodwill Envoy in the US, Khaled Hosseini (left), meets Darfur refugee Yacoub Hussein. Before arriving at a UNHCR refugee camp in Chad, Hussein and his family lived for two months under a tree.

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States, May 22 (UNHCR) Khaled Hosseini, author of the internationally best-selling novel, The Kite Runner, published his second book Tuesday in which he describes his work as a Goodwill Envoy for UNHCR as one of the most rewarding and meaningful experiences of his life.

In the afterword to A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini recalls his work for UNHCR since receiving the Humanitarian of the Year Award at the 2006 World Refugee Day commemorations in Washington, DC. "Over the past year," he writes, "I have had the privilege of working as a US envoy for UNHCR ... one of the world's foremost humanitarian agencies."

In presenting Hosseini with the award, UNHCR sought to recognize the powerful impact his first novel has had on raising awareness of Afghan refugees. In A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini chronicles the lives of two women over three decades of turmoil in Afghanistan. "Today, more than 2 million Afghan refugees remain in Pakistan," he writes in the afterword.

Assisting Afghan refugees remains one of UNHCR's major programmes. Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the UN refugee agency has assisted more than 4 million Afghans to return home. It continues to provide protection to the 3 million Afghan refugees who remain in Pakistan and Iran. Hosseini's own family left Afghanistan in 1976 and sough asylum four years later in the United States.

Earlier this year, Hosseini visited UNHCR camps in eastern Chad where some 240,000 refugees from Sudan's Darfur region are sheltered. For the author, the trip was the result of his desire to see first-hand one of UNHCR's 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 organization USA for UNHCR is running a fund-raising campaign entitled Aid Darfur.

"In the camps, people told me stories of the janjaweed [Arab militia] attacking their villages and killing children, killing women, killing the elderly. Their homes are burnt and everything they own is taken from them.

"The visit certainly changed me in a very profound way," said Hosseini upon his return. "For one thing, it fortified in my mind the notion of how fortunate I am, and how fortunate my children are, to be living in a free country and to have so many things that we take for granted."

During his 45-city US book tour, which begins this week, event organizers will be distributing special bookmarks which call on readers to support refugees worldwide.

Hosseini will also once again mark World Refugee Day with UNHCR. On June 20 in San Francisco he'll take part in a panel discussion on the refugee agency's US theme, "A new home, a new life". Events are also being organized in Washington and Chicago with partner organizations planning commemorations in dozens of other cities.

By Tim Irwin in Washington, D.C., United States

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With elections scheduled in October, 2004 is a crucial year for the future of Afghanistan, and Afghans are returning to their homeland in record numbers. In the first seven months of 2004 alone, more than half a million returned from exile. In all, more than 3.6 million Afghans have returned since UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme started in 2002.

The UN refugee agency and its partner organisations are working hard to help the returnees rebuild their lives in Afghanistan. Returnees receive a grant to cover basic needs, as well as access to medical facilities, immunisations and landmine awareness training.

UNHCR's housing programme provides tool kits and building supplies for families to build new homes where old ones have been destroyed. The agency also supports the rehabilitation of public buildings as well as programmes to rehabilitate the water supply, vocational training and cash-for-work projects.

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Although landless returnees are eligible for the Afghan government's land allocation scheme, demand far outstrips supply. By the end of 2007, the authorities were developing 14 settlements countrywide. Nearly 300,000 returnee families had applied for land, out of which 61,000 had been selected and 3,400 families had actually moved into the settlements.

Desperate returnees sometimes have to camp in open areas or squat in abandoned buildings. Others occupy disputed land where aid agencies are not allowed to build permanent structures such as wells or schools.

One resilient community planted itself in a desert area called Tangi in eastern Afghanistan. With help from the Afghan private sector and the international community, water, homes, mosques and other facilities have sprouted – proof that the right investment and commitment can turn barren land into the good earth.

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