Khaled Hosseini visits Syrian refugees in Iraq, urges more global support

News Stories, 27 March 2014

© UNHCR/B.Sokol
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Khaled Hosseini gets a bird's eye view of Darashakran Refugee Camp during his visit to meet Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

ERBIL, Iraq, March 27 (UNHCR) Best-selling author and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Khaled Hosseini has called on the international community to do more to help the tens of thousands of Syrians living in camps or towns across northern Iraq while praising the resilience of refugees.

Hosseini, a former Afghan refugee, made the appeal at the end of a three-day visit this week to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. He said that while much had been done by the government and aid organizations to meet the basic needs of the 220,000 registered Syrian refugees in the north, "much more is still needed."

"With more and more people fleeing into Iraq every day, there is an urgent need for international donors to come forward with any kind of support possible," stressed the author, who is best known for his first novel, "The Kite Runner."

"During my time in the Kurdistan region, I had the opportunity to speak with Syrian refugee families living both inside and outside camps, many of whom lost everything during their flight," Hosseini said.

''The reality is, that with no end in sight to the violence and bleak prospects of returning home, it is crucial that the international community do more so that Syrian refugees in Iraq continue to be protected," he added.

The Syrians in northern Iraq have, like millions of their compatriots, been forcibly displaced by conflict since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011. This population movement includes more than 2.5 million refugees and 6.5 million internally displaced.

In northern Iraq, Syrians began coming across the border from eastern Syria and elsewhere. More than 96,000 are living in 12 camps or transit centres, while the rest are living mainly in urban areas.

Hosseini, who is now a United States citizen, visited the Kawergosk and Darashakran camps (with a combined total of about 20,000 refugees) for a first-hand look at what life is like for families living there and to see the facilities available, including schools, health centres and child friendly spaces.

Among those he spoke to was a 14-year-old girl called Payman, who told him that she loved writing. "I was able to exchange with her ideas about writing and what writing means to me, what it means to her. Even though I didn't speak her language, I was able to connect with her," said Hosseini.

"To me, she is one of the pictures of the almost incalculable damage and loss experienced by the Syrian people because of this war," added the author, who has written three best sellers to date.

Hosseini later met with Syrian refugees living outside camps in the Iraqi Kurdistan regional capital Erbil. He also visited UNHCR-funded centres where Syrian refugee families living outside the camps are registered and provided with legal assistance and social services.

With around 60 per cent of the Syrian refugee population in Iraq concentrated in locations outside camps, the Protection Assistance Reintegration Centres are an essential part of the refugee response operations in Iraq.

This was Hosseini's first visit to Syrian refugees in the region as a UNHCR goodwill ambassador. His trip will help to keep the spotlight on the suffering and needs of the displaced in Iraq and the other main host countries Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt.

UNHCR has been supporting the government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to coordinate the humanitarian response to the refugees' protection and assistance needs. This includes the provision of registration and documentation, child protection, sexual and gender-based violence protection interventions, the provision of shelter, life-sustaining items and access to basic services, including legal and psycho-social support.

Since first teaming up with UNHCR in 2006, Hosseini has visited his native Afghanistan in 2007, 2009 and 2010 and Chad in 2007. His Khaled Hosseini Foundation also supports UNHCR projects to provide employment and education opportunities and health care for women and children.

"Everywhere I go, I am struck with the resilience of people," said Hosseini. "This resonates with me and I feel some sense of kinship, some part of my own background, my own family story. I have always found something in common with them no matter how different our backgrounds are."

By Sulakshani Perera in Erbil, Iraq



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.

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Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.

In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities

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After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.

Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.

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Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

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The UN refugee agency has launched a US$60 million appeal to fund its work helping hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people. The new appeal concludes that unremitting violence in Iraq will likely mean continued mass internal and external displacement affecting much of the surrounding region. The appeal notes that the current exodus is the largest long-term population movement in the Middle East since the displacement of Palestinians following the creation of Israel in 1948.

UNHCR has warned that the longer this conflict goes on, the more difficult it will become for the hundreds of thousands of displaced and the communities that are trying to help them – both inside and outside Iraq. Because the burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous, it is essential that the international community support humanitarian efforts.

The US$60 million will cover UNHCR's protection and assistance programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as non-Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people within Iraq itself.

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