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7 People You Probably Didn’t Know Were Refugees

No refugee story is the same.

Refugees are forced to flee their homes for different reasons – some due to war, poverty, political violence, and some in fear of persecution. But what many refugees have in common is an unconditional desire to give back and make a difference through their unique talents.


Take a look at 7 prominent people (one for each day of Refugee Week) who were once refugees and now use their platform to advocate for human rights and equality.

1. Anh Do

“There are only two times. Now and too late.” 


Starting off the list with an Aussie fav who never fails to make the nation laugh – Anh Do. Fleeing the aftermath of the Vietnam war, Do and his family sought refuge in Australia in 1980 after surviving five days in a nine-metre leaky fishing boat, and two pirate attacks. Through humour and determination he turned his tragedy into comedy and now dedicates his life to making us laugh.

2. Madeleine Albright 

“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.”


Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and her family fled their home of Czechoslovakia during the Nazi regime. In 1997, she became the first woman to serve as US Secretary of State and the highest-ranking woman in the history of US government. Albright spoke out against President Trump’s immigration ban, saying, “as a refugee myself who fled the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, I personally benefited from this country’s generosity and its tradition of openness. This order would end that tradition, and discriminate against those fleeing a brutal civil war in Syria.“

3.  Albert Einstein

“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”


Physics genius Albert Einstein was born in Germany in 1879. Forced to flee due to the persecution of Jewish people in then Nazi Germany, Einstein sought refuge in the United States where his legacy was built. Long after his death, Einstein continues to influence people all over the globe, even inspiring the birth of the International Rescue Committee.

4. M.I.A. 

“As a Sri Lankan that fled war and bombings, my music is the voice of the civilian refugee.”


At nine years old, M.I.A and her family fled violence in Sri Lanka and later settled in London. Never shy about her experience as a young refugee or as an activist, she has made headlines for the unapologetic sociopolitical elements of her music. In 2016, she self-directed a music video for her song ‘Borders’ which highlighted the plight of refugees.

5. Bob Marley 

“None but ourselves can free our minds.“


Reggae king and cultural icon, Bob Marley fled his hometown of Jamaica to Miami after being shot during political violence. Before his death from cancer in 1981, Marley fused social and political activism with the rhythms of his reggae legacy. Songs like Get Up, Stand Upand Redemption Song, speak to the heart of his pursuit for freedom and equality, and still to this day, makes for a perfect protest track.

6. Iman Abdulmajid

“Refugees are 99 per cent of the time people who have left their countries in fear of their lives. I am the face of the refugee.”


Former model and businesswoman Iman Abdulmajid and her family left war torn Somalia in the middle of the night with just the clothes on their back, and fled across the border to Kenya on foot. Discovered there by a photographer while studying at university, her career took her to the US where she changed the face of fashion and became a leading activist for human rights causes.

7. Wyclef Jean

“It’s important, when you see darkness, to understand that there’s light ahead of that.“


Musician and member of 90′s hip-hop throwback The Fugees, Wyclef Jean was born in Haiti and arrived in the US on refugee status when he was just nine years old. Inspired by both the music and activism of Bob Marley, Jean uses his music to speak about social injustices and equality. He is also the founder of the Yele Haiti Foundation.

There is no cookie cutter refugee experience. But what we know is that it doesn’t matter where you come from, or where you start – it matters what you do next.

For more information about Refugee Week, visit their website. Or, click here to find out how you can help us advocate for refugee rights!

Words by Adelinah Razali

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