Guest post by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner
I have heard it said that anyone can become a refugee. I have never doubted the truthfulness of this statement, since I am a refugee myself.
They also say that no one wants to become a refugee or thinks they will. This is also true. Certainly I never suspected that I would become one when I was growing up in Afghanistan. But I did. The Soviet invasion of my homeland forced my family to seek asylum in the U.S. where I have lived for the past thirty years. But I belong to a small and fortunate minority. The vast majority of refugees around the world are not granted the privilege of coming to the U.S. and becoming a published author. For most of them, life is an ongoing struggle.
This is the reality. There are currently 43 million people around the world who have been displaced by war, persecution, or violence. This figure includes the 740,000 people who have been forced to flee Libya since February. 43 million is a staggering number and represents a humanitarian displacement crisis the likes of which we have not witnessed in recent history.
Many of these refugees come from countries beset by protracted wars complicated by sectarian violence and ethnic strife. Many will remain refugees for years; indeed the average length of stay in a refugee camp is an astonishing 17 years. Nearly half of this refugee population is comprised of women and children, particularly young girls.
According to UNHCR, more than 17 million children under the age of 18 are now living as refugees. Many of these children have witnessed horrors the likes of which most of us could not fathom. They have been victims of abuse and neglect. For young girls, there is the additional risk of gender-based violence. In many regions, war is accompanied by rape, forced marriage, sexual trafficking, enslavement and other atrocities. 80 percent of them, and other refugees, live in impoverished, developing countries that have their own economic struggles and pre-existing ethnic and sectarian strife.
One of the most admirable qualities of Americans is their sense of justice, generosity, and their willingness to lend a helping hand to those in need, as long as they are aware of the plights of a vulnerable group. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, Americans seem to know little about the nature and extent of the international refugee crisis. A recent poll commissioned by USA for UNHCR revealed that Americans are in the dark as to what a refugee is, how many there are, where they are. In addition, they grossly overestimate the funding for UNHCR, the UN agency tasked with protecting the rights of refugees.
This is the reason I am proud to join USA for UNHCR and help launch the Blue Key Campaign. By joining this campaign, Americans can not only support refugees financially with a $5 purchase of a lovely blue key, but by wearing the key they can become advocates for the rights of one of the world’s most vulnerable groups.
This is an opportunity to open a door to a refugee somewhere in the world, raise awareness about the plight of refugees, and support the life saving operations of UNHCR, which include but are not limited to, food, water, shelter, schools, healthcare, legal protection, job training. I have had a chance to see these operations at work first-hand, both in Africa and in my native Afghanistan, and I can attest to how vital and indispensable they are.
I hope the Blue Key Campaign inspires Americans to speak out for refugees and call attention to the needs of a faceless and voiceless group whose narrative is too often lost in the greater narrative of war and political unrest. After all, refugees are not a special breed of people. Anyone can become a refugee. Believe me, I know.
Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1965. His father was a diplomat with the Afghan Foreign Ministry and his mother taught Farsi and History in high school in Kabul. In 1976, the Afghan Foreign Ministry relocated the Hosseini family to Paris. They were ready to return to Kabul in 1980, but by then Afghanistan had already witnessed a bloody communist coup and an invasion by the Soviet army.
The Hosseinis sought and were granted political asylum in the United States. In September of 1980, the Hosseini family moved to San Jose, California. Khaled graduated from high school in 1984 and enrolled at Santa Clara University where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology in 1988. The following year, he entered the University of California at San Diego’s School of Medicine, where he earned a Medical Degree in 1993. He completed his residency at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Khaled was a practicing internist between 1996 and 2004.
While practicing medicine, Khaled began writing his first novel, The Kite Runner, in March of 2001. In 2003, The Kite Runnerwas published and has since become an international bestseller, published in 70 countries. In 2006, he was named a Goodwill Envoy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Refugee Agency. His second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, was published in May of 2007 and has been published in 60 countries.
Khaled has been working to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan through The Khaled Hosseini Foundation. The concept for The Khaled Hosseini Foundation was inspired by a trip to Afghanistan Khaled made in 2007 with the UNHCR. Khaled returned to Afghanistan with the UNHCR in 2009. He lives in Northern California.
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