16 Celebrities Who Used To Be Refugees

FUN FACTS November 9, 2017 By Hugo

Celebrities have come from a variety of backgrounds to get to where they are. Some experienced financial hardships earlier on in their careers before striking gold, while others even suffered abuse and neglect when they were younger.

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However, there are also those who had to flee their native countries for pastures new and thereby become refugees in the process, and many celebrities have experienced this.

Here are 16 notable examples.

1. Freddie Mercury

While the late Freddi Mercury was known the world over for being the frontman of the British chart-topping band Queen, he was raised on the little-known paradisiacal African island of Zanzibar, after Freddie's father was offered a job as a cashier at the British Colonial Office. 

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However, when revolution engulfed the Tanzanian archipelago in 1964, Freddie and his parents moved to Britain.

2. Rita Ora 

Rita Ora and her family fled from war-torn Yugoslavia (present-day Kosovo), in 1991 when she was just a year old following the persecution of ethnic Albanians after the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

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Her family managed to settle in London, where they have remained since, and with such an array of cultural opportunities, the city arguably played a role in Ora's success in the entertainment business.

3. Gene Simmons

The rocker with the really long tongue and lead vocalist of Kiss was actually born in Israel. His mother, Flóra Klein was a Hungarian immigrant and Holocaust survivor who settled there after the war.

Shutterstock/ Tinseltown

In time, however, the family emigrated to New York City, where Gene discovered his love for all things rock n' roll.

4. Iman

The unearthly beauty of the supermodel Iman is a sight to behold, and her late husband, the musical maestro David Bowie, wasn't bad looking either, but his road to success doesn't come close to matching Iman's.

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Indeed, the famed model's earlier life was spent in her native Somalia before an attempted coup there in 1972 forced her family to flee to Kenya, where modelling scouts eventually spotted her. 

5. Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan was only 2-years-old when her family was compelled to flee Cuba following the overthrow of their government by a revolutionary by the name of Fidel Castro. 

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Relocating to nearby America, Gloria's new home would allow her to go on and become one of America's best-selling music artists, with a reported 100m sales accumulated in a career spanning 5 decades. 

6. M.I.A.

Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam, who goes by the stage name M.I.A., was born in Sri Lanka and lived there for the first 9 years of her life before a civil war between two different ethnic groups forced her family to move.

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And like fellow recording artist Rita Ora, M.I.A. also settled in London, and between press duties and recording music in Los Angeles, still calls the Big Smoke home.

7. Mila Kunis

While A-list superstar Mila Kunis is an American citizen; she had no existing ties to the country until her parents moved there from Ukraine during the outbreak of the Cold War when she was just 7-years-old.

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Settling in Los Angeles, it would prove an ideal city to further Mila's acting ambitions, with the star making a name for herself at a young age on the hit show Freaks and Geeks, a show where she first encountered future husband Ashton Kutcher, who recently tweeted he was "boiling" at Trump's immigration ban.

8. Wyclef Jean

Escaping one of the most poverty-stricken places on Earth was always going to be hard, but Wyclef Jean's parents managed to successfully escape the oppressive regime in Haiti led by Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1982.

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Moving to New York City, the Big Apple would serve as a bedrock for Jean's music and his band the "Fugues" is short for the 'Refugees'.  

The Grammy Award-winning hitmaker also penned a memoir titled Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story.

9. Luol Deng

Luol Deng's journey to NBA superstardom is one that started in the impoverished African nation of South Sudan, where his father enjoyed a steady career as a respected member of parliament. However, upon the outbreak of the Second Sudanese Civil War, Deng's father took a 9-year-old Luol and other family members to Egypt before finally settling in London, England.

Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons

It was there that Deng's sporting prowess was recognized by gym teachers at his school in Brixton, South London, and as Deng continually impressed in local competitions, he was offered a scholarship stateside at just 14 and has remained in America ever since.

Unsurprisingly, the Los Angeles Lakers small forward hasn't taken kindly to President Trump's proposed policies on immigration, and has publicly stated that "I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the opportunity to find refuge in a safe harbor."

10. Andy Garcia

Following the Bay of Pigs invasion in the Cuban capital, Havanna, a 5-year-old Garcia was taken with his parents to nearby Miami, Flordia, who soon established a multi-million dollar perfume company.

Mireille Ampilhac via Wikimedia Commons

But Andy wasn't going to ride high on his family's newfound wealth, and it was his more artistic ambitions that eventually led to esteemed roles in a variety of flicks over the years including The Untouchables, The Godfather Part III, Ocean's 11 and the sequels that followed.

11. Albert Einstein 

One of the greatest minds of the 20th century wasn't just stifled early in his life by his dyslexia. He also had a tumultuous childhood, partly due to the fact he and his family had to escape Nazi-occupied Germany to have a chance of surviving.

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Luckily for Einstein and his family, they were granted asylum in America, leading the academic genius to proclaim his gratitude to a place often nicknamed The Land of the Free by saying, "I shall live in a land where political freedom, tolerance, and equality of all citizens reign."

12. Sigmund Freud

Like the fascinating and awe-inspiring genius of Einstein, esteemed psychologist Sigmund Freud was another renowned academic who sought refuge from the Nazis following their occupation of his native Austria. 

Max Halberstadt, via Wikimedia Commons

Thankfully, Freud's family were granted accommodation in London, though Freud regularly wrote how much he missed his homeland. 

13. Regina Spektor

Musical maestro Regina Spektor was already an accomplished pianist by the age of 6, but things would turn sour for the Spektor family around the time Regina turned 9.

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Fleeing in 1989 (months before the USSR's collapse) because of the animosity exhibited towards her family's Jewish faith, the Spektor family eventually settled in America after brief stays in Austria and Italy thanks to a period known as Perestroika, which briefly allowed Soviet citizens to emigrate.

14. Marlene Dietrich

Dietrich was one of Germany's biggest screen stars in the 1920s, but once Hitler's Nazi regime strengthened during the 1930s, the screen icon sought refuge in America, where she successfully reignited her career.


Not only did she manage this, but she also gained much kudos in her adopted nation for performing for Allied troops during the war effort.

15. K'naan

The hitmaker behind the official 2010 Fifa World Cup song 'Wavin Flags', was a 13-year-old refugee fleeing war-plagued Somalia when New York City immigration officials permitted him and his family asylum.

David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons

K'naan, who now lives in Toronto, Canada, is often told by fans that his beloved song is the best World Cup song of all time for its unifying lyrics. 

16. Billy Wilder

The legendary film director Billy Wilder boasts a CV like few others in Tinseltown, with films like Sunset Boulevard, Some Like it Hot, and The Seven-Year Itch to his name and his career is made more impressive when you realize he was once a Jewish refugee escaping persecution from Hitler's tyranny.

Black Board via Wikimedia Commons

Luckily for Wilder, he managed to successfully flee Berlin, a city he moved to from his native Austria, before eventually setting up shop in Hollywood after a brief stay in Paris. 

Unfortunately, Wilder's mother, stepfather, and grandfather weren't as lucky, and all perished during the Holocaust.

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