9 Refugees Who Became Famous

2015 has seen the largest refugee crisis in European history since the days of the Second World War. To some it’s a bitterly unwelcome intrusion and they don’t see why it should be their responsibility to help. It might be worth taking a moment to think how different the word would be if refugees had never been able to flee war and persecution and find safe haven.

No Google or Apple? It’s entirely possible in a world with no refugees as both companies are the direct result of parents fleeing to the US to escape persecution. Here’s nine people, some who might surprise you, who the world might never have known the way we do, were it not for the ability of their refugee family’s ability to flee.

Albert Einstein

Told by teachers at school they didn’t expect much of him as he constantly had his head in the clouds, he also got turned down for a research position with the University he studied at, as they felt his grades were not up to scratch. Einstein would get the last laugh, a few short years later he would be recognised as someone who had fundamentally altered our conception of how the Universe works and as the greatest scientist who had ever lived. Einstein was among many Jewish scientists who fled Europe for the US in the 1930’s as Hitler’s grip on power tightened.


Steve Jobs

Among his many firsts Steve Jobs pioneered the development of the PC and the smartphone. Neither devices were invented by Apple but it was Apple under Steve Jobs that made them mass market and transformed society forever in the process. Although he was adopted at birth by a San Francisco couple, Job’s birth father was a Muslim Syrian refugee he never knew, though interestingly his birth grandfather back in Syria was a self-made millionaire who never went to college either.


Sergey Brin

Born in Moscow where he lived until he was six, Brin’s parents fled the USSR to escape the constant prejudice against Jews there. He’s helped make Google perhaps the preeminent 21st century global company and shows no signs of slowing down. Next up for Google is mass market robot cars, drone fleets and establishing low cost internet access for the world’s poorest, among a long list of projects.


Jerry Springer

He’s passed the 25 year mark on the air and is still going strong when rivals like Oprah & Phil Donahue have fallen by the wayside. Jerry’s parents were Jews who fled to London from Poland before the Nazi invasion and he was actually born in a subway station during an air raid.


Freddie Mercury

Almost a quarter century after his death Queen’s music, much of which he penned,  is as popular as ever. Freddie’s family were originally from India and he spent much of his early life there, but they eventually settled in Zanzibar and it was from there they fled in 1964 in a revolutionary period for that country that saw thousands of its Indian residents killed.


Gerhard Richter

Richter fled East Germany for the West two months before the Berlin Wall went up in 1961. In retaliation paintings and murals were painted over to punish him for being “ideologically unsound”. in February 2015 his piece ‘Abstraktes Bild’ sold for $44.52 million at auction at Sotheby’s in London, the highest ever for a living artist.


Pierre Omidyar

The eBay founder thought there had been a mistake when the first ever item sold on eBay was a broken laser printer – it wasn’t; the buyer answered back to an email query to tell him that they collected broken laser printers.  Both Omidyar’s parents are Iranian and we was born in Paris where he spent his early childhood.


George Soros

Born and brought up in Budapest Jewish Soros survived the Nazi occupation of that city and arrived in London penniless in 1947. His father a keen believer in the international language Esperanto changed the family’s name to Soros ‘to soar’ in Esperanto in the 1930’s; something worked, he’s now one of the world’s Top 30 richest people.


Rita Ora

As Yugoslavia disintegrated  in the early 1990’s, Ora’s parents fled the persecution of ethnic Albanians in the Serbian enclave of Kosova and arrived in London as refugees with months old Rita. Rita’s success has not overnight, along the way to ‘Hot Right Now’ her first UK chart topper was a failed Eurovision bid and several years of lacklustre chart success. She’s earned her pop credentials though, enough to join Simon Cowell as an ‘X Factor’ judge in 2015.





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