Famous refugees and children of refugees

Post Date: Oct 11th, 2011 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

Our members often lament a latent “sense of shame” at living as refugees, not owing to a lack of self-esteem, but due to an erroneous public view reinforced by biased media. It’s emotionally draining to be a needy person unwilling to reach out for fear of misunderstanding, prejudice and, worst of all, shunning. This is why Vision First champions the right to self-reliance, including access to health and education support, with a particular emphasis on the right to work.

Dear Members, keep your head up and appreciate that ultimately there are two kinds of people: those who intelligently understand the downside of rising against opposing forces, and those who unintelligently mistake seeking refuge for something it obviously is not! The former are few and precious, the latter are sadly more numerous and helplessly closed to enlightenment, so don’t even bother. Let’s all remember that there are many famous people in the world today and throughout history who are or were refugees, or who came from families where one or both of parents were refugees. You might be surprised to learn about some of them like one of the most famous refugees – Albert Einstein! If you know about others, please let us know and we’ll add them to the list.

Musicians and pop stars

  • Regina Spektor – singer, songwriter and pianist. Originally fled Soviet Russia at the age of nine and now based in New York
  • Shingai Shoniwa – lead singer of the Noisettes. British-born daughter of Zimbabwean refugees
  • MIA – English-born singer. Part of a Tamil Sri Lankan refugee family
  • Mika – famous singer who fled from Beirut Lebanon
  • Bob Marley – Fled Jamaica to Miami after being shot during political violence
  • Olivia Newton-John – singer and actress – granddaughter of refugee Max Born
  • Gene Simmons – Member of Kiss. His mother was a Holocaust survivor
  • Oscar Straus – Austrian-Jewish composer and refugee
  • Maria von Trapp – autobiography, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, inspired The Sound of Music
  • K’Naan – Somali “The Dusty Foot Philosopher” Hip Hop Artist now living in Toronto, Canada


  • Jackie Chan – Fled to the United States from Hong Kong after being threatened with death by the Triads
  • Rachel Weisz – actress. Both her parents are Jewish refugees
  • Billy Wilder – film director and writer, and a Jewish refugee
  • Jerry Springer – Talk show host. His parents were German refugees
  • Marlene Dietrich – actress and refugee from Nazi Germany
  • Ben Elton – comedian and grandson of a Czechoslovakian refugee


  • David & Ed Miliband – British MPs and sons of a Belgian Jewish refugee
  • Madeleine Albright – First female U.S. Secretary of State whose family fled Czechoslovakia in 1938
  • Henry Kissinger – U.S. State secretary who fled from Germany to USA in 1938
  • Vladimir Lenin – Soviet leader and a refugee who fled to Switzerland
  • Karl Marx – The philosopher and creator of Marxism was a German refugee
  • Sitting Bull – Sioux tribal chief. He left America for Canada
  • Leon Trotsky – Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist

Writers and artists

  • Tom Stoppard – a British playwright who left Czechoslovakia as a child refugee. He co-wrote Shakespeare in Love and has won several Tony Awards.
  • Isabel Allende – Chilean-American Author of The House of Spirits. She fled Chile after receiving death threats.
  • Victor Hugo – Author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Due to his political beliefs, he was forced to flee France several times
  • Vladimir Nabokov – Russian novelist and short story author. Escaped to Europe from the Russian Civil War and then to the United States from the advance of Nazi Germany
  • Lucien Freud – The well-known British painter, he was born in Berlin and fled to the UK with his family to escape Nazism
  • Marc Chagall – a Russian-born Jewish refugee and early modernist painter
  • Peter Carl Fabergé – Russian jeweller who fled to Switzerland. He is famous for creating the Fabergé egg.
  • Camille Pissarro – A French-Jewish refugee. He is considered the father of Impressionist painting
  • Sir Alec Issigonis – Designer of the best selling British car in history, the Mini


  • Albert Einstein – German-born theoretical physicist. He did not return to Germany once Hitler came to power.
  • Mario Stanic – Former footballer with Chelsea. He also played for Sarajevo F.C. who were targeted during the Bosnian War
  • Christopher Wreh – Former Arsenal footballer and Liberian refugee
  • Alek Wek – Supermodel who fled Sudan with her family, known for her political activism
  • Lord Maurice Saatchi and Charles Saatchi – Founders of the famous Saatchi and Saatchi advertising agency, their father was an Iraqi Jewish refugee.
  • Sigmund Freud – Father of psychoanalysis, an Austrin Jew who fled from Nazism
  • Claude Lévi-Strauss – French-Jewish philosopher and anthropologist who was also a French refugee
  • Jesus Christ – Family fled from Israel because of King Herod

“Let us remember that a bogus asylum-seeker is not equivalent to a criminal; and that an unsuccessful asylum application is not equivalent to a bogus one.”– Kofi Annan