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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Iraq Crisis: Urgent Appeal

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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

Read about Khaled Hosseini's support for UNHCR.

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

Posted on 12 June 2007

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

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

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to Iraq in July 2009 to offer support to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who remain displaced within their own country.

During her day-long visit to Baghdad, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited a makeshift settlement for internally displaced people in north-west Baghdad where she met families displaced from the district of Abu Ghraib, located to the west of Baghdad, and from the western suburbs of the capital.

Despite the difficulties in Iraq, Jolie said this was a moment of opportunity for Iraqis to rebuild their lives. "This is a moment where things seem to be improving on the ground, but Iraqis need a lot of support and help to rebuild their lives."

UNHCR estimates that 1.6 million Iraqis were internally displaced by a wave of sectarian warfare that erupted in February 2006 after the bombing of a mosque in the ancient city of Samarra. Almost 300,000 people have returned to their homes amid a general improvement in the security situation since mid-2008.

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

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