Novelist Khaled Hosseini Talks About the State of Refugees in the World

A conversation with the author of “The Kite Runner,” who will be honored at the State Department as an “outstanding American citizen by choice.”
Novelist and Humanitarian Khaled Hosseini during a stop in Washington. Photograph by UNHCR/H. Farhad.
Novelist and Humanitarian Khaled Hosseini during a stop in Washington. Photograph by UNHCR/H. Farhad.

Khaled Hosseini is best known as the author of the acclaimed novel
The Kite Runner and its follow-up,
A Thousand Splendid Suns. The Afghanistan-born
physician is also a humanitarian and runs a foundation
that supports refugee efforts in his native country. Today,
in honor of World Refugee Day, Hosseini is in town to be celebrated at the State Department as an “outstanding American by choice,”
and to participate in a ceremony in which 19 former refugees
will take the oath of citizenship and be naturalized by the US
Citizenship and Immigration Services.

We caught up with Hosseini by phone as he traveled by car from Capitol Hill to the State Department.

What were you doing on the Hill?

I had a meeting with congressional staffers to talk about World Refugee Day and specifically Afghanistan.

And your message to them?

It was an overview of the situation as I see it for Afghanistan and its neighboring countries, the rising displacement, the
outlook. We discussed solution strategy.

What grade do you give the world in dealing with refugees?

B or B minus*. Countries that are hosting refugees, such as Africa and Asia, get a good passing grade. The rest of the world,
not as good.

What about the United States?

I think the US has done a lot, but they can do a lot
more. There are solutions to be had for some of the crises, but in the
US it is about finding the political solution. In America
there’s a lot of confusion of who refugees are. Part of what I’m
trying to do is raise awareness.

If there were one act, one accomplishment, one goal that could be met in the next year, what should it be?

Speaking specifically of Afghanistan, it is security.
That’s what’s causing a lot of people to displace and why they are
to come back.

What does it mean to be a refugee in this world?

Generally speaking it means you have essentially most
of your life taken from you—your home, your local ties, your identity,
your belongings—and you are vulnerable to violence and abuse.
More than likely you are a woman or a young girl or young boy;
this is so whether you stay near your country or leave your

What are the goals of World Refugee Day?

Awareness, because with awareness comes motivation.

What will you say when you are honored today?

That this means a lot to me. I came to this country 32
years ago. I became a citizen in 1993. One of my messages is that we
tend to think of refugees as this monolithic community that is
helpless, a burden, with nothing to offer. Refugees can be
extraordinary people; wherever they settle they bring their
expertise and resources. We should continue with a commitment
to help them.

You got involved with the refugee movement in 2007 after a trip to Afghanistan. What was it about that trip?

I’d read about refugees in an academic way, statistics
and pie charts, but to actually go to a settlement and to see these
people who have come back and are trying to start their lives
where there’s no water or education, no roof over their heads,
no jobs—this put a very human dimension to the problem.
Whenever I get too steeped in numbers or statistics I remember those
people and that experience.

Are you still a practicing doctor or novelist, or are you a full-time humanitarian?

I do writing full time now. I have not practiced medicine since 2004. I run my foundation, and my work with the foundation
is my work as a humanitarian.

*This post has been updated from a previous version.

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