No one is born a refugee, no one is born a war victim, no one wants to live as either of those things.
Last week, I met with Syrian refugees in both the camps and the towns and cities of Jordan to learn more about how they are coping with the ongoing crisis. What has struck me is the immense tragedy of their arrested development. When these young people were forced to flee the country that they love so fervently they were at the peak of their lives, when a young person wants to be productive and carve out a career and a future for themselves.
I have met a number of impressive young adults over the past couple of days – from the ‘Malala of Syria’, the exceptionally articulate 16 year old Muzoon, a fierce advocate for education; to Hamza, physically disabled, yes, but eminently capable; to the members of refugee music and art groups, former university students all, whose studies were rudely and cruelly interrupted by war, and who now occupy the long, repetitive days in camp by coming together and serving their community through cultural and educational outreach programs.
In 2014 I visited the Syrian refugee camps of Northern Iraq in my role as Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency. Only one year on, and the conflict in Syria has produced a further one million refugees resulting in the ‘mega crisis’ (as named by UNHCR High Commissioner, Antonio Guterres) of a total Syrian refugee population of over 3.9 million.
They do not want to be a burden, they are trying their very best to maintain the course of their lives the best they can. It is a universal human need to have dignity and feel useful. It is an ordinary human desire that is being put through an extraordinary test.
Khaled Hosseini is the author of The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and the forthcoming And The Mountains Echoed.
In 2006, Hosseini was named a Goodwill Envoy to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. Inspired by a trip he made to Afghanistan with the UNHCR, he later established The Khaled Hosseini Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which provides humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. He lives in Northern California.