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Famous Refugees
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

  1. 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.
  2. K’Naan
    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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Jesus
    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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Jerry Springer
    While not technically a refugee himself, Jerry Springer was born to German refugees who had resettled in the United Kingdom.
  13. Victor Hugo
    The acclaimed French author was expelled from France multiple times and forced to flee as a result of his political views.
  14. Wyclef Jean
    The popular musician and member of The Fugees was born in Haiti and resettled in New York after fleeing the DuValier regime.
  15. 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

Photo: Flickr

10 famous refugeesThe world has witnessed the severe effects of violence, poverty and injustice throughout the globe, and innocent people continue to suffer the consequences. The United States and several other countries have often offered refuge to those fleeing war and injustice. Below are 10 famous people who are actually refugees who made iconic contributions in various fields.

  1. Gloria Estefan
    Estefan is a singer, writer and actress who fled Cuba for the United States in the 1960s as a result of Castro’s communist revolution.
  2. Albert Einstein
    Einstein was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who escaped Nazi Germany in 1938. Einstein took matters into his own hands, providing visa applications and vouching for other refugees also fleeing Nazi Germany.
  3. Madeleine Albright
    Albright fled Czechoslovakia with her family in 1938, settling in the U.K. before moving to the U.S. She became the first woman appointed to the position of U.S. Secretary of State in 1997.
  4. Alek Wek
    Wek was nine years old when she fled South Sudan for Britain with her family in the wake of a civil war. Wek was discovered by a modeling agent and rose to international fame.
  5. Elie Wiesel
    Writer, professor, political activist, Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor, Wiesel wrote several books about the horrors of the Holocaust. Elie and his wife, Marion, started the Elie Wiesel Foundation in remembrance of the Holocaust and to combat intolerance and injustices.
  6. Freddie Mercury
    Singer, songwriter and producer, Freddie Mercury is best known as the frontman for the rock band Queen. Born in a British Protectorate of the Sultanate of Zanzibar, now Tanzania, Mercury and his family fled during the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964, settling in the U.K.
  7. Marlene Dietrich
    Dietrich was a German-born actress and singer whose career spanned decades. She applied for U.S. citizenship after being offered an acting contract by members of the Nazi Party. Dietrich was also known for her humanitarian efforts during WWII, housing exiles and advocating for their U.S. citizenship.
  8. Wyclef Jean
    Another of these 10 famous people who are actually refugees is Wyclef Jean, Haitian rapper, musician and actor. Jean immigrated to the U.S. as a child with his family during the Duvalier regime in Haiti.
  9. Andy Garcia
    Garcia and his family fled Cuba after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion when he was five years old. He is best known for his role in The Godfather Part III, receiving a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Vincent Santino Corleone. Garcia celebrates his roots and challenges Latino stereotypes in Hollywood.
  10. Theanvy Kuoch
    Kuoch was a slave of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979, before being found by the Red Cross. With her family, she relocated to the United Nations refugee camp and spent two years working as a nurse in various camps before moving to the U.S. In 1982, she founded Khmer Health Advocates with three American nurses to provide health services for survivors of the Cambodian genocide.

These 10 famous people who are actually refugees have paved the way for themselves and others. Refugees are simply people seeking out a better life in a new country; this is a humanitarian issue, and refugees need our help in rebuilding their lives.

– Jennifer Serrato

Photo: Pixabay