Born in Afghanistan, Hosseini came to the United States with his family as refugees. He trained as a physician and then earned international literary fame with The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and And the Mountains Echoed. The Tech honored him with the 2017 James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award. He also sat down with Santa Clara Magazine for an interview. Excerpts below.
In your writing, you underscore the importance of empathy and hope. How does that drive the work you’re doing with the U.N.?
Traveling out to refugee camps, and going to places like Jordan or Iraq—it reminds me of my place in the world, makes me feel reconnected to the issues that we’re facing: to meet, sit, and speak face-to-face with the people who are behind the big stories—the stories of the war, and the war on terrorism, all these things.
The big narrative has kind of trampled on the stories of individuals. I see my role as feeling connected to those individuals, those people who are affected by these enormous events—and to give them a voice, and to advocate for them, to understand what those people have lost.
I write largely about human stories. We learn so much about human nature going to a desert somewhere, outside of a city in Jordan—and then, sitting with people, in a small shack, in 100-degree weather. And to be blown away by the enormous generosity, and kindness, and wisdom of the people you meet. It’s a lesson in human nature.
What do you think Americans need to understand differently about refugees and their plight?
I think the issue has become too politicized. People have used the issue of refugees to try and score political points and to win votes. But people should realize that most refugees are ordinary people who had something happen to them. Nobody chooses to become a refugee. People become refugees because of external forces that impact their lives and force them to make these drastic decisions: to leave their home, leave their communities. Nobody wants to do that. Nobody wants to take their family and put them on a boat, to cross the Mediterranean. These are people who have been victims, had to abandon what they own, and leave behind their homes.
Most refugees are under the age of 18. Most of them are women and children. The vast majority of refugees don’t want to live in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. They want to go back home.