5 Amazing Women Who You Probably Forgot Are Refugees


In light of the recent, horrifying attack on France’s capital on Friday, and in light of the Syrian refugee crisis plaguing the Middle East and all of Europe, America’s finest gun-humping xenophobes and Republican presidential hopefuls have responded the way we knew they would: like a bunch of bigoted, fear-mongering children.

Human Troll (and dickhead) Donald Trump believes that Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the United States “could be one of the great Trojan horses” because “we have no idea who these people are.” Endlessly arrogant Ted Cruz (whose father fled Cuba, no less) would only allow refugees who passed whatever his Christian “religious test” would look like, and all Muslims would get the boot, with Jeb Bush arguing similar sentiments. Ben Carson has remained more or less silent on the situation, with The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz hypothesizing that perhaps he’s simply too busy Googling Syria to have a formed an opinion on the matter. The other 2016 candidates had similarly clueless things to say.


And of course, the beautiful irony in the GOP's stance against granting refugees asylum is that we are a nation of immigrants, that if Donald Trump wants to "Make America Great Again," he ought to check out the poem The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, that's mounted on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. You know the one! Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...

So here is a small but mighty handful of women who fled the violence of their home countries and have gone on to make astonishing contributions to politics, film, literature, and music.

1. Madeleine Albright


Born in Prague in 1937, Marie Jana Kobelová fled to west London with her family when she was only one year old. Her early years were spent in war-torn London, where she lived through the terror of the Blitz.

She would, of course, become the first female United States Secretary of State, after having been the US Ambassador to the United Nations. Albright has a PhD from Columbia University, speaks four languages fluently, and serves as a director on the Council on Foreign Relations. Plus, she met with Leslie Knope for waffles.

2. Isabel Allende

Related to the Chilean President Salvador Allende, who killed himself during the US-backed coup on his Socialist government that put dictator and human rights violator Augusto Pinochet in power, the literary goddess Isabel fled to Venezuela and later settled in California after the coup once she started receiving death threats from the new government.

Allende’s writing has been compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez for its magical realism, and she is said to be the most-read Spanish-language writer in the world. She’s given us immense gifts, from her most notable work The House of the Spirits to her fantastically feminist TED talk.

3. M.I.A.

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Born in 1975 in London to two Tamil Sri Lankan parents, Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam – later M.I.A. – spent her childhood moving from Jaffna in Sri Lanka, to southern India, back to Jaffna, and then ultimately to back to southwest London as a refugee fleeing the Sri Lankan Civil War. During her nomadic childhood, she lived in poverty, saw one school be destroyed in a government raid, and had to run from another while soldiers shot into it.

She thrived as an artist throughout her whole childhood and eventually enrolled at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, studying fine arts, film, and video. After university, her musical career exploded, in particular with her album Kala and her hit song "Paper Planes." Much of her music relates back to her refugee experience, and she is incredibly active in politics and various charities.

Also, when’s the last time you performed at the Grammy’s while nine-months pregnant? 

4. Anna Freud

The daughter of Sigmund Freud not only made her own epic contributions to psychoanalysis, but she was a fierce leader among her five older siblings when her family fled Austria for London as the Second World War began. She worked tirelessly to tackle the immigration process for her family, while caring for her father in his declining health. When the Nazi army wanted to interrogate him, she offered herself up instead and was released unharmed.

5. Marlene Dietrich

The German Cabaret singer left for the United States in 1939 to pursue her Hollywood acting career with Paramount Pictures. She became an international star, much to America’s joy and Germany’s dismay. With the rise of Nazi Germany and her absolute rejection the Nazi regime, she became an American citizen and devoted herself to entertaining the soldiers of the Allied Forces and volunteered for hospitals and other refugee and displaced peoples’ services. 

Photos via Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr Creative Commons (HuffPost Photo, Shawn, NRK P3, Centrodepsicanalise, Juliss11)

This post was originally published on November 19, 2015

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