May 31, 2023, Wednesday
२०८० जेष्ठ १७, बुधबार

Refugee Crisis in Hosseini’s The Kite Runner

Firstly I argue that, though the nation-states seem to be providing shelter and rights to the refugees, it is not so in reality because Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, a representative detail of refugee problems, depicts the plight of refugees in the shelters of Pakistan and USA. Afghanistan had a clash between Pashtun and Hazara groups. The xenophobic mentality of Pashtun compelled Hazara to leave the place of origin. Secondly, I argue Hosseini’s depiction of the roles of Russian totalitarian government and Taliban to create refugee problems in Afghanistan. Russian government helped to abdicate the kingship and formed republic nation in Afghanistan. Later Taliban’s atrocity emerged that implemented Islamic fundamentalism as a result of which refugee crisis took place. Thirdly, I elaborate the hurdles and hard time refugees like Amir, Kamal, Ali, Hassan, Rahim Khan, Agha Sahib etc had to go through as reflected in the novel. And finally, I talk about the refugee’s right and how they are denied to right by the shelter-providing nations.

This paper attempts to uncover the problems in The Kite Runner faced by different characters like Amir, Agha, Sohrabetc who represent the refugee made by the changes of geo-politcal scenario of Afghanistan. It also, at a time, questions the role of nation-state like Pakistan and USA for providing refugee rights. Similarly, it also embraces the notion of domination by Assef, a representative of state to refugee or minority groups.

To deal with the issues pointed above, we have divided this paper into three parts. The first part highlights the historical background for refugees in Afghanistan. This part presents how refugee problem emerged in Afghanistan. Second part is the important part of this paper where wepinpoint the major refugee problems, their hardships, their helpless situation in the shelters and the role of nations-states to respond this problem. With a focus and analysis of two parts, I conclude this paper as a last part of the paper. With references and facts highlighted as the main issue of the paper, I bring the relevant theoretical concepts of Derrida, Levinas, Hannah Arednt, Balibar and Hemel and try to connect the refugee crisis of The Kite Runner in a global spectrum. 

Historical background for refugee in Afghanistan

            The Kite Runner, a novel by Khalid Hosseine, is a snapshot on historical background of Afghanistan. It draws a picture of regime change from kingdom to presidential system. It even portrays the rise of Taliban and its consequences in the geo-political scenario.

            Afghanistan once was a kingdom but the kingship was put to end by the attack of Soviet Totalitarian regime which helped the cousin of king. As the novel Kite Runner indicates the downfall of kingdom, “…inside sat farmed family pictures; an old greeny photo of my grandfather and king Nadir Shash taken in 1931, two year before the king’s assassination (3).” The history of Afghanistan tells it was a kingdom. King used to rule it till 1973. After the king was killed, the political scenario had been changed. Somehow, it brought the changes in the scenario of the politics after four decades of the king’s assassination monarchy was no more in Afghanistan. As the novel further outlines:

As it turned out, they hadn’t shot much of anything that night of July 17, 1973. Kabul awoke the next morning to find that the monarchy was a thing of past. The king Zabir Shah, was away in Italy. In his absence, his cousin, Daud Khan had ended the king’s forty years reign without a bloodless coup (29)

The coup has changed the political scenario of Afghanistan. The shift of the political sphere has brought changes in social paradigm and minority people thought that it would be better for them. But totalitarian hegemony of nation regime does not allow to happen so. The condition gradually became worse and people have to flee to another place for the sake of safety of life. The Hazara, the minority group had to suffer a lot. There was a great exploitation to the. As the novel entails:

You! The Hazara! Look at me, when I am talking to you, “The soldier barked”…I know your mother, did you know that? I knew her real good. I took her from behind by that creek. What a tight little sugary cunt she had! The soldier was saying shaking hands with others, grinning. Later in the dark, after the movie had started, I heard Hassan next to me croaking (5-6)

The Hazara were exploited severely. Even there was sexual exploitation by ruling class. It compelled them to flee. The exploitation of Hassan by his own friend and half brother, Amir is quite notable in the novel. Kamal and Assef are the characters of the novel have fallen in majority group, exploit Hassan very badly. Even the father of Hassan, Ali is treated very badly. He has to live with someone as obedient houseman who had seduced his own wife.

            Later Amir and his father also have to suffer from the ruling class people. They have to leave the place of origin and flee towards the USA. Their condition was not same as the citizens of America. They are somehow treated as the second class citizen. They have to work miserably to make their living. Likewise, the panic situation of refugee is seen in the life of Sohrab. He is treated as animal. He even commits an attempt to suicide when he comes to know that he has to stay in orphanage. He even remains silent after he has been taken to America. It shows the loss of socio-cultural life of Afghani people in the world of other.

            In the novel, three different generations are found to be exploited, that is, Ali, Hassan and his son Sohrav. The historical background of these generation and history of Afghanistan depicts the clear picture of the formation of refugee and their suffering with the struggle to gain the livelihood in different corners of the world sipping their bitterness of the life silently.

Generally it is believed that refugees are those people who are refused to get provided with real identity in a different world. It is an output of some socio-political changes of the nation which compels certain group to live their place of origin as they find the place more difficult or vulnerable for their livelihood. According to According to the 1995 Refugee Convention, a refugee is a person who is compelled to leave country of own nationality due to fear of being persecuted (Article 1, 1951 Refugee Convention).

Hannah Arednt in her writing We Refugee conceptualizes refugees as;

A refugee used to be a person driven to seek refuge because of some act committed or some political opinion held. Well, it is true we have had to seek refuge; but we committed no acts and most of us never dreamt of having any radical opinion. With us the meaning of the term “refugee” has changed. Now “refugees” are those of us who have been so unfortunate as to arrive in a new country without means and have be helped by Refugee Committees. (110)

Hanna Ardent defines refugees are those who have not done anything in the political scenario of the changes but they are compelled to seek asylum. Like Hassan and his father really do not do anything in the life of Amir. But they have to leave house of Amir. They are compelled to seek asylum in order to be safe from the bitterness of Amir.

Ali says,

Life here is impossible for us now, Aghasahib. We are leaving. Ali drew Hassan to him, curled his arm around his son’s shoulder. It was a protective gesture and I knew whom Ali was protecting him from…I am sorry Aghasahib, but our bags are already packed. We have made our decision (89-90).

It shows, the people are compelled to leave their place when something makes the life more difficult. People are compelled to flee as there are no other options left. It is a hard time for them to do so.

The life of people is very difficult after they become refugee. However, they go on struggling to make it even better. They never give up home. They become optimistic. They try to make their life as usual as they can to support the notion, Arednt says:

We wanted to rebuild our lives that was all. In order to rebuild one’s life, one has to be strong and optimistic. So, we are very optimistic. Our optimism indeed, is admirable, even if we say to ourselves. The story of our struggle has finally become known. We lost our homes which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world (110).

The optimistic idea is seen clearly in the mind of refugee. They think it can be changed. They hope to happen good things even at the time of very dangerous situation or the situation which is beyond their control. The delivery of an Afghan with the soldiers to remind about his /her family in order to make his wife safe shows the optimistic idea of refugee as the novel reflects:

The young woman pulled the shawl down over her face. Burst into tear. The toddler sitting in her husband’s lap started crying too. The husband’s face had become as pale as the moon hovering above. He told Karim to ask “Mr. Soldier sahib” to show a little mercy, may be, he had a sister or a mother, may be, he had a wife too (95).

The husband thinks the situation would be better. He asked the Russian soldier to show mercy on him. It is an optimistic view of the husband though the situation is very harsh. The situation of refugee is very harsh; really seems to be very miserable. They even have to live the life of animal. There is no any humanistic approach. They hardly get things as humans are supposed to get. They have to flee to seek the safe land even it is hard for them. However, they compromise it they really have panic situation. The novel reveals:

You open your mouth. Open it too wide your jaws creak. You order your lungs to draw air. Now you need air, need it now but your airways ignore you. They collapse, tighten, squeeze and suddenly you’re breathing through a drinking straw. Your mouth closes and your lips purse. And all you can manage is a strangle croak. Your hands wriggle and shake. Somewhere dam has cracked open and a flood of sweat spills, drenches your body. You want to scream. You would if you could. But you have to breathe to scream (102).

The panic condition of refugee can be seen even the basic humanitarian rights are not available for them when they are fleeing to get shelter somewhere. They may get faced hard time for life. They even lose their lives as Kamal dies on the way to asylum. Though the refugees have to go with panic condition of life, nation-state may not provide even basic human rights for them because they are not subjected to be citizen of a nation-state. They may not get equal right or may not get any right as nation state does not recognize their identity. Hemel argues:

This entails that instead of providing right to rightless, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights leads to the opposite result. The refugees are more or more submitted to total control of the police and other organs of power of nation state. By competing the organization of humanity, we are succeeding in throwing back refugee in the midst of civilization on nothing but their natural givenness. (18 Hemel)

The notion of rights of refugee are in the control of nation-state. Due to this, it is very hard to practice the right. Even though the real notion of refugee right can be given to them or secure them by implementing the notion of human rights to them, for Agamben the life of the refugee is not so good in concentration camp. The private life of refugee is not equal to life of common citizens but it can be made parallel to the citizens if we practice the human right notion in real sense. The bare life of refugees should be included in the inscription of even the most basic elements of existence into the power structure of nation state.

Hassan, the Hazara boy, who was treated very badly by Assef and Kamal. They think Hazara are only the servants. They are not have any equal to them. They are mere puppet in their hands. They are the sources of fun for them and a matter made for exploitation. Assef, Kamal and to some extend Amir himself do not consider as human. He is treated as if he is no more human and he does not have any right to be. It shows how Hazaras are made refugee in their own place. It depicts how they are deprived from rights.

Kamal, the Afghan boy is dead. His father expresses his miserable situation. He is totally helpless. He requests his God Allah to help him. The condition of the refugee is vulnerable when they are heading to get refuge. On the way to asylum, the life of refugee may come to an end. Whereas, Kamal’s father says:

He won’t breath! My boy won’t breath! He was crying. Kamal’s lifeless body lay on his father’s lap. His right, uncurled and limp, bounced to the rhythm of his father’s sobs. My boy! He won’t breath! Allah help him breathe. Baba knelt beside him and curled and arm around his soldier. But Kamal’s father shoved away and lunged for Karim who was standing nearby with his cousin (104).

Refugees even have to be included in minority. They cannot be identified as the citizen. Even the people who are living in the place, may be there to show their dialectical suppression for refugee. They are compelled to accept their destiny. Though they are accepted, they are not included in the mainstream of socio-cultural activities. They are lost somewhere in the nostalgia. They have to recall their marvelous past and go on in agony. Genaral Taheri recalls his wonderful past with Agha, the father of Amir. He even passes a comment that Agha deserves the level of minority when he is in America. Taheri expresses:

  Correctly, it was a marvelous time. If I recall correctly, your father’s eyes proved as keen in the hunt as it had in business…we Afghans are proved to be considerable degree of exaggeration, Bachem, and I have heard many men foolishly labeled great. But your father has the distinction of belonging to the minority who truly deserves the level (117).

 The remarks of General Taheri depicts the treatment of the refugee in other’s land. It shows how they are treated and convinced somehow they belong to minority of the place. Their rights are supposed to be the rights of minority and do not have the real fun of life as majority citizens can have. On the same line of interpretation, Balibar mentions,

First of all, there exists conflict with respect to the founding idea of equality. The  this idea emerges from the struggle against ‘privilege’ when it appeared that the privileged person was not he who had more rights but he who had less… is not a zero sum game. This is what distinguishes it from the play of power, the balance of power. Rousseau admirably developed this difference on which the entire argumentation of social contract is based (46).

Balibar criticizes that nation-state does not provide equal right to citizens and refugees. The citizens are given more rights that refugees. The citizens are supposed to be privileged group. But he thinks it should not be citizen rather the refugees should be. The citizens are already given more rights in comparison to refugee. Hence, the concern of nation-states should be there, where the rights are not. However, in reality it is not in practice. The play of power distinguishes it. Balibar shows his dissatisfaction on this notion of less rights to the refugees.

The remarks of Taheri towards Agha shows power politics. Though he was immigrant, he has gained his identification or recognition in the nation-state and he makes Agha to understand his real ground in the new land. Similarly, the death of Kamal shows the game of power. Kamal has to meet death because he does not get the service of privilege as Balibar says. So, the notion of Balibar is a critical approach towards the deed of nation state, its failure to enhance rights to those who are right less.

The treatment of citizens towards the refugee is not so good. They do not show their interest in rights of migrants. Even in the workplace, they are not considered as equal as native people. They do not deserve some basic rights though human rights ensured them. The native seem to be ignorant when the name of refugee right come into concern. Generally, the people who are working in the place where the risk of life is very high, certainly should get the health insurance. It is done for the native to some extend but in case the migrants or the refugees are at work, the owner may not show this concern. Agha, who has worked at gas station has not got his insurance. He even does not ask his master for it. He cannot insist his master to do so because he is a refugee. The notion is clear in the novel:

Even though Baba was a manager, at the gas station, the owner hadn’t offered him health insurance, and Baba, in his recklessness had not insisted. So I took him to the country hospital in San Jose. The swallow puffy-eyed doctor who saw us, introduced himself as a second-year resident (129-130).

Hamel presents the idea of Rancier as he criticizes the concept of providing human rights. According to him, the first understanding of human rights are only the rights for those who can claim their rights. The capable persons are only assured to enjoy human rights or other essential rights. He further says, the persons who are not capable to ask their own rights should also be ensured to enjoy their rights (21).” In case, if it is in practice, Agha would not have been deprived of his rights. He would have given his rights of health insurance.

The novel also deals with the reasons for asylum seeking. It also deals with the problem of refugee. Afghans have to leave their native land and seek a shelter for their lives. They are fleeing to Pakistan due to totalitarian concept of Russia who invaded Afghanistan in the name to flourish communism. They hypnotized the Afghan rulers that republic would bring some kind of betterment in their life. It in fact could not give any comfort to the life of Afghans. Rather, it brought a threat to a certain group of people which compelled them to leave their place and flee to Pakistan. The novel conceptualizes the idea as:

That was the year that the Shorawi completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan. It should have been a time of glory for Afghans instead the war raised on, this time between Afghans and Mujahedin, against Soviet puppet government of Najibullah and Afghan refugee kept fucking to Pakistan (158). 

Derrida conceptualizes:

Whenever the state is neither the foremost author of, nor the foremost guaranter against the violence which forces refugee or exile to flee, it is often powerless to ensure the protection and the liberty of its citizen before a terrorist menace. Whether or not, it has a religious or nationalist alibi (6).

Derrida mentions the reasons for refugee to flee to the safe place. Refugees are made due to the failure of nation-state. It cannot secure its citizen from emerging threat. The threat of life vibrant cause to flee the citizens and compels them to be refugees. The reasons are, may be of terrorists, fear or dispute in religious orthodoxies or other internal or external factors. Similarly, the arrival of Amir to Afghanistan after long time of exile in USA makes him feel again he is in his homeland. The soil of the native land shows the feeling of acquaintance. The refugees have desire to return back to their real land. The chance of returning back to their home can give a real essence of pleasure. They even remember their glorious history of past. Amir, really feels refreshed and relaxed when he puts his steps in the land of Afghanistan. He says:

The ground was cool under my  bare feet and suddenly, for the first time since we had crossed the border, I felt like I was back. After all these years, I was home again, standing on the soil of my ancestor. This was the soil on which my great-grandfather had married his third wife a year before dying in the cholera epidemic that hit Kabul in 1915 (205).

Amir cannot stop remembering his roots with the soil. It has brought reminiscence in his psyche and feels like he is in the path of his root of ancestors.

Similarly, Hosseini even presents xenophobic mentality of totalitarianism and how the xenophobic people treat the refugees. The hatred towards refugees is presented clearly with the remark of Assef. He symbolizes xenophobic people. Assef, a symbolic person for exploitation, treats Sohrab badly. He resembles the nation-state citizen and how nation-state citizen exploits the refugee. Sohrab, the son of Hassan, a Hazara, has been treated as animal. He is not free to enjoy any humanitarian right. He is no more human in the eye of Hassan. He is considered as a matter of entertainment. He is made to dance in Pashtu music. “Soharab danced in a circle, eyes closed, danced until the music stopped…Mashallah! They cheered. Shasbas! Bravo! (240)” These lines visualize Sohrab’s dance.

Xenophobia is seen in the heart of Assef. His hatred for Hazara can be seen. He has massacred Hazaras. He thinks Hazaras are the garbage, and these garbage should be cleared or cleaned. He utters:

I see this may turn out to be enjoyable after all. But there are things traitors like you don’t understand…Like pride in your people, your customs, your language. Afghanistan is like a beautiful mansion littered with garbage, and someone has to take out the garbage. Ethnic cleansing I like it. I like the sound of it (243-244).

In order to contextualize their contribution, we will begin with two major trends in contemporary philosophy with regards to human rights; the enlightenment fundamentalism of the Inouveaux philosophes and the critique of Hannah Arednt and GirgioAgamben of human rights as an political life into private life (16)

Hemel argues that enlightenment fundamentalism focuses the contribution of elite group in asking the human rights. It deals how so-called elite people think about their own right as they consider themselves as human due to their axis to so-called civilization. It may not think other human as there is no we culture so, it brings a type of superiority to elite group who even do not hesitate to say other barbaric or uncivilized people are no more humans and the hatred of elite can be seen towards other people, who are not supposed to be as enlightened as they are.

The novel also shows the notion of city of refuge. One of the characters of the novel, Agha is found to be half guilty and half innocent. In front of other people like Hassan, Amir, he is a good person. He seems as if he is a good person who has shown his love towards his son, Amir and a Hazara boy, Hassan. He even shows his responsibilities towards the treatment to Hassan. He also never forgets the birthday of Hassan and celebrates it. The hidden truth is not revealed till Rahim Khan explores it to Amir. Then, Amir finds his father guilty. Agha has to seek asylum in the USA because of guilty. He may think it is not easy to stay in Afghanistan in case his secret is revealed. So, he moves to USA, may be a place  of refuge. Rahim Khan reveals a secret to Amir:

But your father was a man torn between two halves. Amirjan! You and Hassan. He loved you both but he could not love Hassan. The way he longed to, openly and as a father. So he took it out on you instead- Amir, the socially legitimate half represented the riches he had inherited and the sin- with- impunity privileges that come with them. When he says you, he saw himself. And his guilt. You are still angry and I realized it is far too early to except you to accept this (259).

Levinas uncovers it as: The ambiguity of a crime which is not a crime punished by a punishment which is not a punishment is related to ambiguity of human fraternity which is the sources of hatred and pity (47).

Levinas stresses that the people who commit crime are really disliked by others. They are charged with bitter attitude. However, people may show their pity after they come to know some innocent in the heart of the guilty person. Agha, who seduced Ali’s wife is really a matter to criticize. It shows the domination of so-called rich or powerful people to powerless people. Amir shows his anger when he came to know about from Rahim Khan. He even presents himself very harsh to Rahim Khan. But his heart has been changed when he recalls the love of his father towards Hassan. Agha, somehow proves himself to be a source of fatherhood to Hassan. Though he cannot be very frank or open to his activities. He seems to be half guilty and half innocent. As a bio-physical needs of his body and Ali’s wife compelled them to commit the crime. It is Rahim Khan who advocates for Agha’s half guilty and half innocent nature. May be, his deed of his guilt compels him to leave Afghanistan and flee to America as it can function as a city for half innocent and half guilty, city of refuge for Agha.

The problematization of refugee can be seen clearly by nation-state for the recognition of refugee. The minority people even have to face over hazardous problem to get right. The very -notion of nation-state may think to provide rights for refugees. But it remains silence when legal barriers appear. It may pretend that it is in favour of refugees’ rights however it remains back showing the problems of legal system.

Amir wants to take Sohrab with him after he came to know he is his half-brother’s son after Sohrab has been brought to Pakistan. The Pakistani officers are positive to some extent but they remain passive and express their helplessness due to the lack of birth certificate. The legal procedure may not go forward in absence of Sohrab’s parents’ death certificate in order to be adopted by Americans, Amir.

The play of nation-state for people of new comers and seeking of their rights can be analyzed from this incident:

[…] the child is not orphan…not legally he is not…you have death certificates…I don’t make the laws sir your outrage notwithstanding, you still need to prove the parents are deceased. The boy has to be clear as a legal orphan…you wanted the long answer and I’m giving it to you. Your next problem is that you need the cooperation of the child’s country of origin (290).

Hanna Ardent in her book The Origin  of Totalitarianism shows the problem faced by stateless people. She argues:

The real trouble started as soon as the two recognized remedies, repatriation and naturalization, were tired. Repatriation measures naturally failed when there was no country to which these people could be deported. They failed not because of consideration for the stateless person; and not because of humanitarian sentiments. On the part of countries, that was swamped with refugee… but since the man without a state was “an anomaly for whom there is no appropriate niche in the framework of general law” (283).

Ardent shows how the nation-state treats stateless people. Amir, who wants to take Sohrab with who had been said he cannot do so because there is no appropriate general law to protect humanitarian right of Sohrab to get protection from his half biological uncle. Hosseini presents obstacles faced by refugee during immigration from one nation to another nation. Nation-states ask for the legal documents which is really ridiculous. The person who is seeking for safety of the life at first does not bother about legal paper. As he is human, he has some humanitarian rights. Before he is a citizen or refugee, he is a human being and humanitarian assistance should be provided to him. The nation-state simply thinks that feeding is enough for them. The basic humanitarian rights are not so essential than survival of the person. If a person is from a bit suspicious country, the condition will be even worse. It still may not permit the adoption. In fact, even the moderate Muslim nations are hesitant with adoption because in those countries Islamic rules and regulations do not recognize the process of adoption. Their religious rigidity does not allow even the adoption for those homeless and parentless orphans.


Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner deals with historical background of the causes of refugee in Afghanistan. It shows the three different regimes and the reasons of shift in regime. Hosseini draws a clear picture of refugees and their hurdles when they are fleeing to new land.

        Refugees have to face various problems when they arrive the new land. The life of refugees is surrounded by several ups and downs of their daily life. The life of refugees are the lives of lost as the nation states of the host countries donot show their concern when the rights of refugees are addressed. They seem to be reluctant and ignorant to provide the rights of refugees.

        Hosseini somehow criticizes such notion of nation states by portraying some representative characters like Amir, Hasan, Ali Agha etc. He even presents the hatred of so called high class people. Assef resembles such class of people. His hatred towards hazara, somehow shows xenophobic mentality, a cause of   refugees crisis.

        Hosseini criticizes the deeds of nation states that they are there to show crocodile tears for refugees. They pretend as if they are in favor of providing refugees rights, however, in reality they aren ot worried at all about refugees. He presents the pretending notion of nation states showing the deeds of Pakistani officers in Peshawar. Their treatment on Sohrab and Amir shows the so-called involvement for refugee rights.

        He shows The Kite Runner as a plea for refugee right since there are not sufficient nestling wings to save the rights of refugees. With the help of the novel, novelist ask the concerned authorities to be liberal in order to solve the refugees’ problems. He even requests the behaviours of nation-states should be changed so as to solve the problems of refugees. In case, the nation-states fail to do so, the world will be a mess of rightless people. The real essence of humanism will be lost.

        To sum up, it may not be wrong to say that the world should have cosmopolitan city in order to fulfill the basic humanitarian rights of refugees. They should be treated equally as citizens because they are human beings before they are refugees. In the same manner, citizens are also human prior to being citizen. Hosseini, in his novel The Kite Runner opines to provide equal rights between citizens and refugees as far as possible. In case, refugees do not get equal rights, the nostalgic reminiscence of their life will never be eradicated and the world will be in fraction between the first class citizen and second class citizen or no citizen. That may ruin the real beauty of humanity from the world.

Works Cited

Arendt, Hannah. “We Refugees.” Altogether Elsewhere: Writers on Exile, edited by Marc             Robinson.Faber, 1994.

Arendt, Hannah. “The Decline of Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man.” The Origins   of Totalitarianism. Harcourt Brace,1973.

Balibar, Etienne. “Proposal of Equaliberty.” Equaliberty: Political Essays. Duke UP, 2014.

Balibar, Etienne. “Citizen Subject”. Who Comes after the Subject?,edited by Eduardo Cadava,    Peter Connor, Jean-Luc Nancy. Rutledge, New York, 1991.

Derrida, Jacques. Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. Trans. Mark Dooley and Michael Hughes. Rutledge, 2000.

Hosseini, Khalid. The Kite Runner. Riverhead, 2003.

UNHCR. “The Refugee Convention, 1951.” 2016.