Famous or not, refugees bring much more than their belongings with them to their new countries.

Here’s a list of public figures you might not know were refugees (or children of refugees).

If you know of someone who should be included in this list, get in touch.

Do also take a look at Traces Project, a timeline of artistic cultural contributions by people who have found sanctuary in the UK, produced by Counterpoints Arts and UNHCR.


Lord Maurice Saatchi and Charles Saatchi – Founders of Saatchi and Saatchi advertising agency. Their father was an Iraqi Jewish refugee.


Eva Jircicna – Designed the Faith Zone in the Millennium Dome. Refugee from Czechoslovakia.

Daniel Marot – Architect, furniture designer and engraver who designed Hampton Court Palace. Huguenot refugee.

Peter Moro – Born in Germany and moved to London, becoming one of the UK’s most prominent post-war architects. Designed the Royal Festival Hall and the Nottingham Playhouse.

Richard Rogers – Designer of the Centre Pompidou and the Millennium Dome. His mother was a refugee from Trieste.


Frank Auerbach– German-born British painter, considered one of the world’s greatest living artists.

Marc Chagall – Russian-French artist of Belarusian Jewish origin.

Jacob Epstein – British sculptor who helped pioneer modern sculpture. Son of Polish-Jewish refugees.

Peter Carl Fabergé – Russian jeweller, fled Russia via Finland, Germany to Switzerland.

Lucien Freud – Well-known British painter, German-Jewish refugee.

Mona Hatoum – Well-known British painter, Palestinian-Lebanese refugee.

Anish Kapoor – Won the 1991 Turner Prize. His parents were refugees who fled Iraq.

Camille Pissarro – Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painter, Danish-French-Jewish refugee.

Sir John Tenniel – Cartoonist and book illustrator, descended from Huguenot refugees.

Alfred Wolmark – Painter, Polish-Jewish refugee.


Sir Montague Burton – Founded Burton retail, refugee from Lithuania.

Sir John Houblon – First Governor of the Bank of England, grandson of refugees.

Manubhai Madhvani – Expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin.

Michael Marks – One of the founders of Marks and Spencer, Russian refugee.

Sieng van Trang – Founder of the educational website www.iLearn.to, Vietnamese refugee.

George Weidenfeld– Publisher, Jewish refugee who fled the Nazis.

Fashion and Design

Sir Alec Issigonis – Designer of the Mini car, refugee.

Tanya Sarne – Fashion designer and creator of the Ghost label, father was a Russian refugee.

Lewis de Teissier – Founder of Tessier’s jewellers, and the grandson of refugee Jaqcues de Teissier.

Alek Wek – Supermodel, fled Sudan with her family.


Lakshmibhai Pathak – Founder of Patak’s, was a Kenyan refugee.

Rashmi Thakrar – Founder of Tilda Rice, Ugandan refugee.

Music and Dance

Bob Marley – Famous musician, fled Jamaica to Miami after being shot during political violence.

Fritzi Massary – Austrian-Jewish operetta singer, refugee.

Norbert Brainin – Austrian-Jewish violinist, refugee.

Gloria Estefan – Cuban-American singer, songwriter, actress, and businesswoman, father was a Cuban refugee.

Justine Frischmann – Lead singer of Elastica, father was a Hungarian refugee.

Wyclef Jean – Musician, former member of Fugees, Haitian refugee

K’Naan – Hip-hop artist, refugee from Somalia now living in Toronto, Canada.

M.I.A. – English-born singer/ hip-hop artist, part of a Tamil Sri Lankan refugee family.

Mika -Famous singer, fled from Lebanon.

Freddie Mercury – Lead singer of the band Queen, fled to England from Zanzibar in 1964.

Olivia Newton-John – Singer and actress, granddaughter of refugee Max Born.

Rita Ora – Singer, came to the UK as a refugee from Kosovo as baby.

Regina Spektor – Singer, songwriter and pianist. Originally fled Soviet Russia at the age of nine, now based in New York.

Shingai Shoniwa – Lead singer of the Noisettes. British-born daughter of Zimbabwean refugees.

Claude-Michel Schonberg – Composer whose works include Les Misérables and Miss Saigon, son of refugees.

Arnold Schoenberg – Austrian Composer, one of the most important composers in history, fled Europe due to increasing Nazi terror.

Gene Simmons – Member of Kiss, mother was a Holocaust survivor.

Sir Georg Solti – Conductor, refugee.

Robert Stolz – Austrian composer/conductor, refugee.

Oscar Straus – Austrian-Jewish composer, refugee.

Richard Tauber – Austrian-Jewish singer, composer and refugee.

Georg Ritter von Trapp – Father of the Trapp family, whose story inspired The Sound of Music after fleeing Nazi occupied Austria.


Madeleine Albright – Former U. S. Secretary of State, refugee From Prague.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Dutch politician, fled from Somalia.

Sitting Bull – Sioux chief, left America for Canada.

Lord Alf Dubs – Politician, refugee from Prague.

Margaret Hodge – Former British MP and Minister for Children, parents were refugees from Germany.

Michaëlle Jean – A refugee from Haiti- Governor-General of Canada from 2005 to 2010.

Henry Kissinger – American diplomat and political scientist, former US Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, fled from Germany to USA in 1938.

Vladimir Lenin – Soviet leader, refugee who fled to Switzerland.

Friedrick Lessner – Founder member of the Independent Labour Party.

Karl Marx – Political theorist, German refugee.

David Miliband – British MP, son of a Belgian Jewish refugee.

Ed Miliband – Former leader of the Labour Party, son of a Belgian Jewish refugee.

Leon Trotsky – Marxist theorist.

Psychology and Philosophy

Michael Balint – Hungarian Jew, psychoanalyst, fled from Nazis.

Sigmund Freud – Austrian Jew, founded psychoanalysis, fled from Nazis in Austria.

Anna Freud – Psychoanalyst, daughter of Sigmund, fled with him.

Ernest Gellner – Czech-Jewish philosopher, fled from the Nazis.

Stephan Korner – Czech-Jewish philosopher, fled from the Nazis.

Claude Lévi-Strauss – French-Jewish philosopher and anthropologist, French refugee.

Karl Popper – Austrian-Jewish philosopher, fled from Nazis to New Zealand.


Isaac Abravanel – Rabbi and politician, fled from Portugal to Spain.

Rabbi Leo Baeck – Reform Rabbi, holocaust survivor.

Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits – Chief rabbi of Great Britain, fled from the Nazis to Britain.

Jesus – His family fled from the holy land because of King Herod.

Current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso – refugee, he fled Tibet when China invaded.

Rabbi Hugo Gryn – Reform rabbi and holocaust survivor.

Paul Kahle – Christian Hebraist, fled from the Nazis to Britain.

Mullah Krekar – Iraqi Kurdish mullah, lives in Norway.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – Fled from Mecca to Medina in 622.


Gustav Victor Rudolf Born – pharmacologist, German-Jewish refugee.

Max Born – Winner of Nobel prize for physics, German-Jewish refugee.

Edith Bulbring – Pharmacologist, German-Jewish refugee.

Carl Djerassi – The inventor of the first contraceptive pill, Austrian refugee.

John Dollond – Inventor of the achromatic lens, founder of Dollond and Aitchison, descended from Huguenot refugees.

Albert Einstein – One of the world’s most famous scientists, German-Jewish refugee.

Alexander Grothendieck – Mathematician, German-Jewish refugee.

Robert Fano – Physicist, Italian-Jewish refugee.

Ugo Fano – Physicist, Italian-Jewish refugee.

Bernard Katz – Nobel Prize-winning biophysicist, German-Jewish refugee.

Sir Hans Krebs – Nobel Prize-winning scientist, German-Jewish refugee.

Sir John Krebs – Zoologist, son of Sir Hans Krebs.

Sir Harold Kroto – Nobel-winning chemist, son of German-Jewish refugees.

Liviu Librescu – Physicist, fled from Romania to Israel.

Lord (Claus) Moser – British professor of statistics and head of the Government Statistical Service, Austrian-Jewish refugee.


Alexander Alekhine – Chess World Champion, moved from Communist Russia to France.

Ossip Bernstein – Chess grandmaster, escaped from Communist Ukraine to France.

Efim Bogoljubow – Chess grandmaster, moved from the Soviet Union to Germany.

Fedor Bohatirchuk – Chess grandmaster, moved from Ukraine to Canada.

Jelena Dokic – Tennis player, Serbian refugee.

Mebrahtom Keflezighi – Olympic marathon silver medallist, Eritrean refugee to US

Lomana LuaLua – Football player who has played for Colchester United, Newcastle United and Portsmouth, was a refugee.

Mario Stanic – Former footballer with Chelsea. He used to play for Sarajevo F.C. who were targeted during the Bosnian War.

Christopher Wreh – Former Arsenal footballer, Liberian refugee.

TV and Film

Jackie Chan – Fled to the US from Hong Kong after being threatened with death by the Triads.

Zohra Daoud – Former Afghani actress and model, now settled in Malibu, California.

Marlene Dietrich – Actress and refugee from Nazi Germany.

Omid Djalili – Comedian and actor, he and his family are Iranian refugees.

Ben Elton – Comedian, grandson of a Czechoslovakian refugee.

Baron Lew Grade – Television mogul and uncle of Michael Grade, was a Russian refugee.

Fritz Lang – Film director, and a half-Jewish refugee.

Jerry Springer – Talk show host, parents were German refugees.

Rachel Weisz – Actress, both parents are Jewish refugees.

Billy Wilder – Film director and writer, Jewish refugee.

Writing and Publishing

Reinaldo Arenas – Cuban novelist, became a refugee in the USA after years of persecution for his sexuality and political ideas. His autobiography, Before Night Falls, was on the New York Times list of the ten best books of the year 1993 and was made into a film in 2000.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown – Journalist and author, Ugandan refugee.

Isabel Allende – Author of The House of Spirits, Chilean refugee who fled after receiving death threats following the overthrow of her father’s cousin, Salvador Allende.

Hannah Arendt– one of the most influential political philosophers of the twentieth century. Born into a German-Jewish family, she was forced to leave Germany in 1933.

Elias Canetti – Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1981, Bulgarian refugee.

Joseph Conrad – Author of Heart of Darkness, refugee.

Anne Frank – German-born diarist, as a child she fled from Nazi Germany to the Netherlands.

Karen Gershon – A writer and poet, as a child she fled from Nazi Germany to Great Britain.

Michael Hamburger – A noted British Translator and Poet, as a child he fled from Nazi Germany to London.

Lord Paul Hamlyn CBE – The founder of Octopus Publishing Group, Jewish refugee from Germany.

Victor Hugo – Author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, due to his political beliefs, he was forced to flee France several times.

Ismail Kadare – A winner of the Booker prize who fled Albania in 1990 for political reasons.

Shaparak “Shappi” Khorsandi – A British comedian and author of Iranian origin. She is the daughter of the Iranian political satirist and poet Hadi Khorsandi. Her family left Iran when she was a child following the Islamic Revolution.

Marina Lewycka– Author whose first book, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, sold over a million copies worldwide.

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala – Novelist and film screenwriter, German-Jewish refugee.

Judith Kerr – Children’s writer, German-Jewish refugee.

Thomas Mann – Winner of the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature, moved from Germany to Switzerland and from there to the US.

Rigoberta Menchú – An author and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, Guatemalan refugee.

Vladimir Nabokov – Russian author and lepidopterist, escaped to Europe from the Russian Civil War and then to the US from the advance of Nazi Germany.

Ursula Owen – Editor of Index on Censorship, was a German refugee as a baby.

John O’Donnell-Rosales – Cuban author, poet and journalist, escaped from Cuba with the remnants of his family after years of persecution for their political and religious views.

Felix Salten – Author of Bambi, Hungarian-born Jewish refugee from Nazis.

Loung Ung – A survivor of the Killing Fields of Cambodia, activist and author of the books First They Killed My Father and Lucky Child.

See our Literature section for a comprehensive list of refugee authors


Ossip Bernstein – Chess player, fled from Russia to France.

Alina Fernandez – Daughter of Fidel Castro, fled Cuba to Spain , now lives in the United States. Former model, now hosts a talkshow.

Otto Kahn-Freund – Lawyer, German Jew who fled Nazi Germany to the UK.

Dalai Lama – His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso is the spiritual leader of Tibet. In 1959, following the Brutal suppression of the Tibetan national uprising in Lhasa by Chinese troops, he was forced to escape into exile and has since been living in Dharamsala, northern India.

Christoph Meili – Whistleblower, fled from Switzerland to the US because an arrest warrant was issued against him.

Merhan Karimi Nasseri – An Iranian refugee who lived in the departure lounge of Terminal One in Charles de Gaulle Airport from 1988 to 2006. Subject of the Steven Spielburg film ‘The Terminal’.