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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Khaled Hosseini Biography

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

Khaled Hosseini and UNHCR

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Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

By mid-September, more than 200,000 Syrian refugees had crossed the border into Turkey. UNHCR estimates that half of them are children, and many have seen their homes destroyed in the conflict before fleeing to the border and safety.

The Turkish authorities have responded by building well-organized refugee camps along southern Turkey's border with Syria. These have assisted 120,000 refugees since the crisis conflict erupted in Syria. There are currently 12 camps hosting 90,000 refugees, while four more are under construction. The government has spent approximately US$300 million to date, and it continues to manage the camps and provide food and medical services.

The UN refugee agency has provided the Turkish government with tents, blankets and kitchen sets for distribution to the refugees. UNHCR also provides advice and guidelines, while staff from the organization monitor voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Most of the refugees crossing into Turkey come from areas of northern Syria, including the city of Aleppo. Some initially stayed in schools or other public buildings, but they have since been moved into the camps, where families live in tents or container homes and all basic services are available.

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

The violence inside Syria continues to drive people from their homes, with some seeking shelter elsewhere in their country and others risking the crossing into neighbouring countries. The United Nations estimates that up to 4 million people are in need of help, including some 2 million believed to be internally displaced.

The UN refugee agency has 350 staff working inside Syria. Despite the insecurity, they continue to distribute vital assistance in the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Al Hassakeh and Homs. Thanks to their work and dedication, more than 350,000 people have received non-food items such as blankets, kitchen sets and mattresses. These are essential items for people who often flee their homes with no more than the clothes on their backs. Cash assistance has been given to more than 10,600 vulnerable Syrian families.

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

Iraq: Breaking BreadPlay video

Iraq: Breaking Bread

Shareef fled to Iraq a year ago to escape the violence in Syria. He opened a bakery, which has done great business. When he heard about a new wave of displacement in northern Iraq in August, he decided to help those in need by providing bread.
Iraq: Moving to a New Camp in KhankePlay video

Iraq: Moving to a New Camp in Khanke

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Iraq: Massive UNHCR Aid OperationPlay video

Iraq: Massive UNHCR Aid Operation

The UN refugee agency is conducting a massive aid operation to assist some 500,000 Iraqis displaced by conflict in northern Iraq. It includes airlifts, and transport of aid by road and sea.