An Evening with Khaled Hosseini
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Since becoming a goodwill ambassador for the UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency, Khaled Hosseini has endeavoured, through his books, to inject the world with vital empathy in times of social crisis, such as the American refugee detention camps and subsequent familial separation. Anyone who has read A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Kite Runner or And The Mountains Echoed will be somewhat aware of Hosseini’s political agenda, which he brought to life on the stage of London’s South Bank Centre, interviewed and prompted by journalist Razia Iqbal, as well as launching his newest venture, Sea Prayer.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia CommonsSea Prayer commemorates the second anniversary of the death of Alan Kurdi, the three-year old Syrian refugee who’s drowned body shook the world with its jarring juxtaposition of innocence caught up in such brutality. The illustrated book imagines the words his father, the only survivor of the family, said the night that they embarked on the fatal journey across the Mediterranean Sea. Since Sea Prayer is not in the form of a novel, its words are so much more poignant, felt especially in the passage that Hosseini read out for the audience. The heart of Hosseini’s talk, and work, is challenging the misconceptions that we are fed about refugees and immigrants, the fear of ‘the other’, as they have become, and the greater need to humanise the people behind the numbers. Refugees are real human beings, like you and I. Hosseini is not a stranger to this himself, growing up in America as a refugee from Afghanistan, where many of his novels are set, speaking very little English - an achievement in itself considering how beautifully written his books are. The manifestation of our ‘fear’, or perhaps our blind denial of what is truly happening, manifests itself in the isolation of those seeking refuge. In collaboration with UNHCR, Hosseini visited Lebanon and Sicily to meet some Syrian refugees; and their stories emanate through his words. Up to 1 in 6 citizens in Lebanon are Syrian refugees. He told us the necessarily brutal truths; these boats are flimsy, smugglers do not genuinely care about human life and the chance of survival has dropped significantly – it is now 1 in 18.
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