Famous Refugees

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It’s sometimes difficult not to be overwhelmed by the amount of negative press asylum seekers and refugees receive in the UK and across Europe. The ‘refugee crisis’ is often painted, by much of the media, as something the British public should look on with fear or caution.

Descriptions of those fleeing their home countries talk of “swarms” and “floods” of faceless people, and discourse often focuses on what refugees take away from their host countries rather than what they give.

In the hopes of trying to add some positivity into this mix, we have compiled a list of some famous and note-worthy people; all of whom have improved the lives of the British public in some way, and all of who are either first or second-generation refugees.

Refugees – famous or not – bring with them a breadth of skills, experiences, and gifts. This ought to be considered and celebrated when talking about refugees and their presence in the UK and beyond.


Freddie Mercury: fled Zanzibar as a child with his family to the UK

Lead singer of the rock band Queen and is widely regarded as a key rock icon and lead singer. As well as being well known as an entertainment figure, performer, musician, and singer, Mercury famously wrote the band’s hit songs ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Don’t Stop me Now’, and ‘Killer Queen’ – among several others.

He fled with his parents in 1964 during the Zanzibar Revolution.

Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Rock band Queen
[Image: Canal Historia]

Rita Ora: fled Yugoslavia as a baby under the care of her parents to the UK

Rita Ora is known as a British pop singer and was the first British female solo artist to have 13 top ten songs in the UK. She is most known for her hits ‘Let You Love Me’, ‘Your Song’, and ‘R.I.P’.

She fled with her parents in 1991 for political reasons, due to the persecution of Albanians (her parents were Albanian) which started after the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

Mika: fled from Lebanon to France as a child with his family, before moving on to the UK as a teenager

Singer/songwriter Mika/MIKA is known for his hits ‘Grace Kelly’, ‘Relax, Take it Easy’ and ‘Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)’

He fled Lebanon for France as a one-year-old with his siblings and parents in 1984 and then accompanied his family to the UK 16 years later.


Albert Einstein: fled from Germany to England

Einstein is widely regarded as the father of theoretical physics. He founded one of the two pillars of modern physics and invented various theories and formulas which have formed and profoundly influenced global understandings of science today. He is most famous for his mass-energy formula, E= mc2, which is widely called “the world’s most famous equation”.

In 1933, he fled to England where he was protected by armed guards after an assassination plot was launched against him by the Nazi regime following on from his open criticisms of Hitler’s oppressive regime.

Albert Einstein commonly referred to as the ‘father of modern physics’
[Image: Newscom/File, CS Moniter]

Sigmund Freud:  fled from Austria to England

Widely known as the ‘father of psychoanalysis’, Freud built the framework for what we now called psychiatry, psychological studies, and counselling. His most famous theories include the ‘Oedipus Complex’ and dream interpretation. Facets of his practice (such as ‘talk therapy’ and ‘aversion therapy’) are used by most practitioners to diagnose and treat mental health issues and disorders today.

He fled from Austria in 1938 to England after Vienna was occupied by the Nazis.

Sigmund Freud, commonly known as the ‘father of psychoanalysis’
[Image: Casparius/Hulton Archive/Getty Images,
Irish Times]

Carl Djerassi: fled from Austria to Bulgaria and then to the US

Carl Djerassi was a chemist (as well as a novelist and playwright) who is most famous for developing the oral contraceptive pill. He fled Austria as a teenager with his parents in 1938, moving to Bulgaria, which remained a safe place for Jewish people during the Nazi regime. He then moved to the US a year later with his mother.


Victor Hugo: fled from France to the Channel Islands

Hugo was a Fresh philosopher, poet, and novelist. He is most famous for his 1865 novel ‘Les Misérables’, now a famous musical. He also wrote ‘The Hunchback of Notre-Dame’.

He was exiled from France during the French revolution in 1852 and given refuge by the British on Jersey island, and later Guernsey.

Production image of Claude-Michel Schönberg’s Les Miserables, London
[Image: Lesmis.com]

Judith Kerr: fled from Germany to the UK as a child with her family

Judith Kerr is a children’s writer, most famous for her books ‘Mog’ and ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’. She also wrote a semi-autobiographic novel for older children and teens called ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’, which gave a child’s-eye view to her experiences fleeing Germany and experiencing the Second World War.


Luol Deng: fled South Sudan as a child with his family to the UK

Luol Deng is a British professional basketball player, commonly referred to as the best basketball player to play for Great Britain’s national team. He is a two-time

He fled to the UK while he was a child with his parents, during the Second Sudanese Civil War in the 1980s.

Luol Deng, professional basketball player for Britain’s national team and NBA champion

Victor Moses: fled from Nigeria as an orphaned child to the UK

Victor Moses is a professional footballer, who plays for Chelsea in the Premier League as well as Serie A club Internazionale. He first came to prominence when he was 14 after he scored 50 goals for Crystal Palace’s under-14s club.

He fled Nigeria in 2001 when he was 11 in to claim asylum in the UK, after both his parents were killed in religious rights Kaduna. He was granted asylum and placed with a foster home and was soon scouted while playing football for his local team.


Karl Marx: made stateless and fled to England

Marx was a philosopher, political theorist, sociologist, and socialist revolutionary. His critical theories – collectively known as ‘Marxism’ – focus on class struggle and its social importance. His predictions and theories are complex but can be boiled down to a criticism of capitalism and its structures and encouraging the working class to take revolutionary action. His theories often naturally meld with communist theories, as he argued that a communist society was an inevitable outcome from the instabilities of capitalism. He is one of the most influential figures in human history, and his theories are equally lauded and critiqued.

Marx fled from Germany, Belgium, and France where he was made stateless for his radical views, and moved to England in 1845.

Lord Alf Dubs: fled from Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) to the UK

Lord Alf Dubs is a former MP and Labour politician turned philanthropist and human rights, advocate.

He was one of the 669 Jewish children saved by Nicholas Winton on the Kindertransport in 1939 and fled Czechoslovakia alone, to meet his father in London.  

He has been instrumental in campaigning for and lodging laws that protect children and vulnerable people and is a life-long fighter for refugee rights.

Lord Alf Dubs, lifetime campaigner for protecting child refugee rights
[Image: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images, The Independent]