Refugees who changed the world for the better

June 20 is observed as World Refugee Day. It’s a day to honour the courage and resilience of refugees from around the world. For no one is safe until everyone is safe.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), close to 79.5 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes for survival. After battling the most adverse state of affairs, circumstances that do not even allow people to look beyond survival, many refugees have gone on to create history. This World Refugee Day, we commemorate the contributions of these brave hearts.

Albert Einstein

Despite an illustrious career in science, Albert Einstein was forced to flee Nazi Germany when anti-Semitic policies threatened his work and survival. He then moved to the US with his wife, Mileva Marić. Einstein went on to receive the Nobel prize for “his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the photoelectric effect.” He branded his pathbreaking work in the field of “theory of relativity” as Jewish physics. He also helped many Jews find refuge in the US by supporting their visa applications and sending in recommendations.

Madeleine Albright

Image: Wikipedia

Madeleine Albright, the American politician and diplomat who served as the first United States Secretary of State, had immigrated to the United States from the country then known as Czechoslovakia in 1948. Her family first fled the Eastern European country to the UK during World War II, and upon returning a few years later, they were forced to flee again after the Communist Party takeover. Madeleine and her family moved to the US when she was 11 years old in 1948. She has said, “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” In May 2012, she was awarded the ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom’ for her contributions to national interests by then US President, Barack Obama.

Victor-Marie Hugo

Image: Thoughtco

French poet, novelist and political activist, Victor Hugo, is best known as the author of novel “Les Miserables”. In 1851, a coup resulted in the Second Empire under Napolean III, and Victor Hugo tried to resist it by using his work as a tool to raise his voice. This threatened his safety and he had to flee to Brussels where his exile lasted till the restoration of liberty in 1870. In 20 years of exile, Hugo refined his craft, let go of existing prejudices in his writing, and produced some of his finest poems and novels. His writing is centred on human justice and charity in times of the French revolution. He is often described as one of the most powerful minds of the Romantic movement.

Sigmund Freud

Image credit: Wikipedia

Famous neurologist Sigmund Freud was born to Jewish parents in the Austrian empire, and in spite of resistance, was forced to flee to England when Nazi Germany invaded Austria. He had already been awarded the Goethe Prize for his contributions to psychology. He made pathbreaking contributions to psychology by developing a clinical method for treating psychopathology using therapeutic techniques and dialogue between a patient and psychoanalyst. Freud has justly been described as the “most influential intellectual legislator of his age”. Long after his death, his theories still prove to be an instrument to tackle the ills of modern life and interpret culture and society.

Sergey Brin

Sergey Brin

Internet entrepreneur and computer scientist Sergey Brin might be an American business magnate now but Brin immigrated to the US from Soviet Union at the age of six along with his family. Brin earned a PhD in computer science from Stanford when he met Larry Page and went on to build a search engine to reshape the internet world. The rest, as they say, is history.

Edited by Anju Narayanan


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