7 famous people who used to be refugees #WorldRefugeeDay
Everybody has a story, but in today's toxic political climate the voices of certain groups in society can be maligned through a vocal minority scapegoating a group who often don't have a right of reply.
Here are seven real-life refugee stories that challenge these divisive narratives, from celebrities who've broken down the barriers to excel in their fields:
1. Freddie Mercury
The lead singer of the Queen, Freddie Mercury, became a globally recognised name, famed for his powerful voice and charisma on stage. Farokkh Bulsara (his real name) fled Zanzibar (Tanzania) to escape the violent uprisings of the revolution that set to overthrow the Sultan and his corrupt government. Mercury's family moved to Middlesex and he studied graphic design at university before trying to make it in the music industry by joining a string of bands before finding Taylor, May and Deacon to form Queen. Mercury was a phenomenal talent in regards to songwriting, penning hits such as Somebody to Love and Bohemian Rhapsody, which lead to Queen winning a plethora of awards including; four Ivor Novello Awards, four Brit Awards and was voted the 'Best British Band Of All Time' in 2007. Mercury sadly died from AIDS but became an important figure in regards to his story as a refugee—showing that despite having to flee persecution, people can make a new life for themselves and achieve their potential. Bravo!
2. Ilhan Omar
Omar rose to prominence in the 2018 midterm congressional elections when she became the first Somali-American elected to the US House of Representatives (representing the 5th District of Minnesota) aligning herself with the Democratic Party. Omar's family sought asylum in the US to escape the war in Somalia and spent four years in a refugee camp. Omar became a fully naturalized US citizen in 2000 at the age of 17 and graduated with a degree in political science and international relations in 2011. Since coming onto the political Omar has been a fervent critic of the Trump Administration's immigration policies and has also received prejudice from some political groups for her outspoken nature and progressive standpoints (with criticism often being labelled as 'islamophobic').
3. Rita Ora
The London based singer, who has had hits such as RIP (2012), I Will Never Let You Down (2014) and Your Song (2017), left her home country of Kosovo with her family when she was just one year old to become refugees. The reason behind this move was due to the persecution of the Albanian communities during the disintegration of Yugoslavia by President Slobodan Milosevic. Despite fleeing Kosovo, Ora has been vocal in regards to the struggles her family faced when moving to London. Ora has spoken of the poverty she initially faced and the hostility she felt being a refugee in a completely new environment (her family even added the name 'Ora' onto their surname so it could be pronounced easily). Ora's talent for music was picked up from a really early age and trained at the prestigious Sylvia Young Theatre School, before becoming an award-winning singer and songwriter achieving four number one singles and starring in hit films such as South Paw and Detective Pikachu. Ora now acts as an advocate for refugee communities—as an honorary ambassador for Kosovo working to help young Kosovans and giving a speech concerning the Syrian refugee crisis in 2016 at a conference hosted by Free the Children.
4. Fabrice Muamba
Fabrice Muamba is a retired professional footballer who has played for clubs such as; Arsenal and Birmingham City. Born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Central Africa) Muamba's father fled the Congo due to his political views conflicting with those of the regime that governed at the time and moved his family to East London. When Muamba and his family arrived in England as refugees, he was unable to speak English—in a short space of time, he excelled academically acquiring both GCSEs and A Level qualifications and joined Arsenal's youth division in his mid-teens. Muamba played professionally from 2005-2012 until cardiac arrest on the pitch lead him to retire. Muamba died for a period of time after suffering a massive heart attack but made a miraculous recovery. Since retirement from professional football, Muamba studied at Staffordshire University and has now become a coach and speaker (discussing his life story and his recovery from his heart attack amongst other things).
5. Albert Einstein
Probably the most recognised figure in the world of science, Einstein developed his theory of relativity and won a Nobel Prize for physics in the 1920s. Einstein was born in Germany and as a member of the Jewish community, he moved to America—becoming a naturalized citizen as a result of the rise of Adolf Hitler and his deeply anti-semitic views that eventually lead to the Holocaust. During his time in Germany, he experienced direct persecution by the Nazis—being refused his return to teaching as a professor and having his home raided and possessions destroyed. Einstein knew that his ability to move away from Germany was a privilege and encouraged other Jewish Germans to follow suit—making visa applications for people they knew still in Nazi-controlled Germany. Wanting to do more Einstein founded the International Relief Committee—an organisation that assists refugees (wherever they are fleeing as a result of political persecution, natural disasters or conflict) with short term aid (for example first aid, clean water and clothing) and long term sustainable projects (e.g. through the development education, empowerment and economic wellbeing).
6. Reinaldo Arenas
Arenas was a Cuban Poet who fleed Cuba after becoming a target of political persecution by the Castro government due to his open homosexuality. A frequent critic of Castro in his works, Castro imprisoned Arenas due to his homosexuality and Arenas subsequently tried several times to escape the prison and flee to the United States, finally succeeding in 1980 joining lots of other refugees. Arenas sadly took his own life due to his battle with AIDS, but before his death still acted as a critic of Fidel Castro's human right's abuses and publishing powerful poetry and prose that often gave voice to the voiceless—notably his poem 'Nino Viejo' ('My Lover, The Sea').
M.I.A. (originally Mathangi Arulpragasam) was born in London but moved to Sri Lanka where her father, became the founder of the Tamil resistance. M.I.A. adopted her stage name from a phone call she received pertaining to the disappearance of her cousin in Sri Lanka who was fighting in the Tamil resistance. This event triggered M.I.A's desire to investigate what was actually happening in Sri Lanka—searching for her cousin who had gone missing. During her childhood in Sri Lanka M.I.A was surrounded by civil war and her family went into hiding from the Sri Lankan Army. Initially staying in India, M.I.A's family returned to Britain as a refugee in 1986, which was when far-right groups like the National Front were whipping up racial tensions. M.I.A. graduated from Central Saint Martins before embarking on a music career, and then rose to global prominence with singles such as Paper Planes, Boyz and Bad Girls with her music focussing upon the stories of refugees, political persecution and critiquing consumerist culture. M.I.A. aims throughout her work to challenge the dominant narratives that frame the issues of refugees and immigration, challenging narrowminded (and often racist) viewpoints that are still held in society.