The attacks on Paris last week have turned the matter of whether or not to accept refugees into a rather nasty national discussion characterized by conservatives who are urging the United States to turn them away.
The crisis of refugees streaming from the bloody civil war in Syria has been ongoing, with hundreds of thousands of people desperately fleeing to European and Middle Eastern countries seeking asylum. Even before Friday’s attacks that killed 129 in Paris, the crisis had elicited xenophobic responses.
This week, primarily conservative American lawmakers are trying to stop President Obama’s plan to accept 10,000 refugees as world governments struggle to accommodate them.
But preventing refugees from finding safety and flourishing is more likely to do harm than good. Many have only influenced society for the better with their contributions. Here is a list of well-known refugees who have made their mark on culture.
Wyclef Jean: Jean is the founder of the well-known and influential band the Fugees. The name of the group is short for “refugees,” reflecting the fact Jean’s family migrated to the United States from Haiti in 1982.
M.I.A.: British singer and songwriter Maya Arulpragasam is a member of the Tamil ethnic minority of Sri Lanka. Her family was displaced during a civil war, finally settling in London. Many of the themes in Arulpragasam’s popular music circulate around her experience as a refugee.
Freddie Mercury: Born Farrokh Bulsara, Mercury’s family was forced to flee East Africa during the Zanzibar revolution in 1964, during which Arab and Indian residents were being massacred. The family settled in England and Mercury became one of the world’s best-known musicians and singers.
Sigmund Freud: Freud and his daughter, Anna — also a psychoanalyst — were Austrian Jews and forced to flee the Nazis in Austria during World War II. Freud, often referenced as the “father of psychology,” remains one of the most famous and influential people in the field, establishing psychoanalysis as a method of therapy.
Albert Einstein: The Jewish physicist whose name is still synonymous with great intelligence fled Germany when the Nazis rose to power and became an American citizen. Einstein’s theories, including relativity, have served as the bedrock for scientific discovery.
The Dalai Lama: The current Buddhist religious leader, also known as Tenzin Gyatso, was forced to flee to India as a refugee during the 1959 Tibetan uprising. The Dalai Lama is a popular and influential religious figure.
Alek Wek: Wek is a supermodel originally from South Sudan. She is known for influencing the fashion industry, which is infamous for celebrating narrow, almost exclusively Caucasian beauty standards. Wek settled in Britain as a refugee from the violent Sudanese civil war in 1991.