Famous UK refugees from footballers to pop stars

As part of Refugee Week 2021, we’re taking a look at some of the most famous names in their field who have come to the UK because they were fleeing wars or persecution.

From Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis, to Bosnian families escaping war in the 1990s and the many people who arrive from around the world today, the UK has a history of welcoming people fleeing persecution or war. 

And while many go on to build quiet new lives for themselves, people who sought sanctuary in the UK also include a glittering roster of celebrities, Nobel-award winning scientists and sports stars. 

Here are a selection of some of the most famous names in their field who have built new lives in the UK when they, or their family were displaced from their countries of origin. 


Rita Ora 

Rita Ora is one of the most famous names in contemporary British pop. She was born in what is now Kosovo (back then, it was a part of Yugoslavia) to Albanian parents. During a period of conflict in the 1990sAlbanian people were persecuted, causing her family to resettle in the United Kingdom when she was a child.  

Dua Lipa

Dua is one of the biggest rising celebrities of the moment and had a big scoop at the Grammy Awards earlier this year, winning Best British Solo Artist and Album of the year. Much like Rita Ora, Dua Lipa’s parents came to the UK to avoid the Yugoslav Wars. 

Freddy Mercury 

Queen’s iconic frontman Freddy Mercury was born in Zanzibar (now Tanzania) to Parsi parents, who were originally from north-western India. When he was a child, his family came to the UK to avoid the burgeoning war in then-Zanzibar.  


MIA is an award-winning rapper and musical artist whose family came to the UK to escape the Sri Lankan civil war. As a child in school in Sri Lanka, she remembers how she and her classmates would dive to avoid gunfire.


Sir Mo Farah

The multi-Olympic gold medallist and arguably the UK’s successful runner, he fled conflict in his native country of Somalia when he was young, before finding a safe home in the UK and growing up in Greater London.  

Victor Moses

Victor Moses is a Premier League footballer who has played for Chelsea, Liverpool and West Ham. He was born in Nigeria to Christian parents, who were tragically killed in religious riots, afterwards coming to the UK as a child.  

Luol Deng

This one’s for the basketball fans; Luol Deng was an NBA All-Star basketball player – now retired – and led the British team at the 2012 Olympics. He was born in what is now South Sudan to a father who was a politician. Before finding fame in the USA (and becoming one of Barack Obama’s favourite players), he grew up in Croydon, in south London.  


Albert Einstein

The famous physicist and creator of the theories of relativity, Albert Einstein was a German Jewish refugee who briefly sought safety from the Nazi regime in Norfolk. While in the UK, he met with Prime Minister Churchill in the cause of aiding German scientists escape the ruling Nazi party 

 Sigmund Freud

‘The father of psychology’ Freud came from an Austrian Jewish family and fled the Nazi persecution during World War II, finding a new home in north London 

Politicians and royalty 

Ed and David Miliband

One of the most famous sibling duos in contemporary British politics, the former Labour leader  Ed (right) and Cabinet member David (left) were born to Polish-Jewish parents who escaped the Nazi occupation in Belgium. The Milibands’ grandfather died in the Holocaust 

Lord Alf Dubs

The Labour party grandee and lifelong champion of refugee rights was born to a Jewish family in Prague, and was saved from the Nazis by the Kindertransport, which brought him to the UK. He gave his name to the Dubs Amendment, which helped bring displaced children in Europe to the UK.  

Prince Philip

A fact that ‘The Crown’ fans will be aware of, the late Prince Philip was born to families of Danish, Greek and British royal families in Greece. His family was exiled from the country after the Greco-Turkish War among fears for his father’s life. He did not become a British Citizen until he married Queen Elizabeth.  


Author Siva Thangarajah

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