In the wake of recent attacks on refugees, many have spoken out against the blanket statements and incorrect generalizations made about those who flee their homelands due to violence or disaster. As a further reminder that refugees are a large and diverse population that is difficult to adequately describe, this list of 15 famous refugees details people you might not know were refugees.
Meet 15 Famous Refugees
- Aristotle Onassis
The famous Greek shipping magnate fled Smyrna during the Greco-Turkish War in 1922 after several of his family members were killed during the Great Fire of Smyrna.
The author of the hit song “Wavin’ Flag”, which became popular in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, was born in Somalia and resettled in Canada in 1991 after the outbreak of the Somali civil war.
- Freddie Mercury
Freddie Mercury was born in the Sultanate of Zanzibar, which is now Tanzania. He fled with his family in 1964 during the Zanzibar Revolution and resettled in the United Kingdom.
- Georg Ludwig and Maria von Trapp
The Sound of Music was based on the true story of these two famous refugees. The parents of the real-life von Trapp family, Georg and Maria, fled Austria after the Anschluss, or Nazi annexation of Austria. They eventually resettled in the United States, where they moved around before finally settling in Vermont.
- Madeleine Albright
The first female American Secretary of State arrived in the U.S. as a child in 1948. Her family fled the modern-day Czech Republic (which was then Czechoslovakia) after a communist takeover.
- Henry Kissinger
Another famous American Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger was born in Furth, Germany and fled Germany with his family in 1938 to escape persecution on the basis of their Jewish faith.
- Karl Marx
As a result of his controversial political views, Karl Marx was exiled from multiple countries over the course of his lifetime. For the last 35 years of his life, he was a stateless person after being expelled from France and subsequently renouncing his Prussian citizenship.
- Sigmund Freud
The famed psychoanalyst was a refugee for the last year of his life. He fled Austria as a Jewish refugee during the Anschluss in 1938, resettled in the United Kingdom, and died there in 1939.
Jesus of Nazareth and his parents could technically be considered refugees on the basis of their having fled Israel and gone to Egypt to escape King Herod.
- Enrico Fermi
The Nobel Prize-winning physicist and contributor to the Manhattan Project was a native of Italy and fled to the United States after the passage of anti-Semitic legislation by the Mussolini regime.
- Albert Einstein
Perhaps one of the most famous physicists in history, Albert Einstein was a German-Jewish refugee who came to the United States in 1938 and became a professor at Princeton University.
- Jerry Springer
While not technically a refugee himself, Jerry Springer was born to German refugees who had resettled in the United Kingdom.
- Victor Hugo
The acclaimed French author was expelled from France multiple times and forced to flee as a result of his political views.
- Wyclef Jean
The popular musician and member of The Fugees was born in Haiti and resettled in New York after fleeing the DuValier regime.
- Peter Carl Faberge
Peter Carl Faberge was a renowned Russian jeweler who personally served the imperial court under Nicholas II and was known for the decorative eggs he created for the Russian imperial family and aristocracy. After the revolution in 1917, he was forced to flee to Switzerland. His surviving pieces have sold for tens of millions of dollars.
Amid all this talk of famous refugees, it is important to reiterate that refugees should not and do not have to possess any special talent or perform any extraordinary feat in order to be treated with basic human dignity. Rather, this list of famous refugees should serve as a reminder that someone’s refugee status does not define them and does not make their contributions to society any less valuable.
– Michaela Downey