From Russia and Somalia to Bulgaria, Iran and Syria, here are the inspiring stories of some famous refugees.

The number of forcibly displaced people by the end of 2020 touched just under 82.4 million with 26.4 million considered as refugees.

June 20 marks World Refugee Day, first established in 2001 to recognise the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. 

Here are some inspirational stories of the struggles of some refugees in recent decades and the remarkable feats they have achieved despite bitterly harsh circumstances. 

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef delivers a speech during her visit at the Masjid al-Salaam, a mosque in Peterbrough that just re-opened after a fire was deliberately set, in Peterborough, Canada on January 17, 2016.
Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef delivers a speech during her visit at the Masjid al-Salaam, a mosque in Peterbrough that just re-opened after a fire was deliberately set, in Peterborough, Canada on January 17, 2016. (AA)

Maryam Monsef

Born in Mashhad, Iran, Maryam Monsef’s family first fled to Afghanistan before her birth. Following her widowed mother’s fleeing of Afghanistan to escape the Taliban, she along with her two younger sisters arrived in Canada as refugees in 1996.

In 2015, Monsef became the first woman elected as a Member of Parliament to represent Peterborough— Kawartha. 

Later, she was appointed as Minister of Democratic Institutions on November 4 in Justin Trudeau's Cabinet.

Syrian Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini, who swam to Greece from Turkey, holds a press conference after being UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador at the United Nations office in Geneva, Switzerland on April 27, 2017
Syrian Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini, who swam to Greece from Turkey, holds a press conference after being UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador at the United Nations office in Geneva, Switzerland on April 27, 2017 (AA)

Yusra Mardini

Yusra Mardini is one of the millions of Syrians whose life was turned upside down following the war in the country where she previously dreamt of representing her country in international swim meets.

Yusra, 17 at the time, along with her sister Sara, decided to flee to Europe on a perilous boat journey in 2015 to escape the Syrian war.

The choppy seas took the lives of other women and children but Yusra and her sister managed to survive the trip. 

Arriving in Germany, Yusra continued to swim and ended up competing in the Rio Olympics in 2016 as a member of the first Refugee Olympic Team. 

To top it off, Yusra also became the youngest UNHCR goodwill ambassador. 

Gloria Estefan is a Cuban-American singer, songwriter, actress and businesswoman.
Gloria Estefan is a Cuban-American singer, songwriter, actress and businesswoman. (AA)

Gloria Estefan

The Latin pop star was born in Havana, but left Cuba in 1959 with her family after Fidel Castro's communist revolution that took control of the country that same year. Estefan was two years old when she left the country. 

When they landed in Florida in the US, Estefan’s father joined the American army. She was granted citizenship in 1974 and joined the band, the Miami Sound Machine, which was the beginning of her legendary career that has brought her seven Grammys.

Alek Wek smiles to the camera with Yves Saint Laurent and Dutch supermodel Efke Ile.
Alek Wek smiles to the camera with Yves Saint Laurent and Dutch supermodel Efke Ile. (AA)

Alek Wek

The famous supermodel fled Sudan with her family due to the civil war in Sudan in 1991 when she was just nine years old. Alek Wek and her sister moved to London and that is where Wek was scouted by a model agency as a teenager, kicking off her relatively long career in the fashion industry. 

Iman Abdulmajid is a Somali-American fashion model, actress and entrepreneur.
Iman Abdulmajid is a Somali-American fashion model, actress and entrepreneur. (AA)

Iman

Somali supermodel Iman Abdulmajid and her family emigrated from Somalia to Kenya when the coup took place in 1972..

A year later, at the age of 18, studying political science at the University of Nairobi, Iman was working as a translator when she was discovered by Peter Beard, a photographer and prominent figure in the fashion world in Nairobi.

Beard sent Iman’s photos to Wilhelmina. Then, she started working at the modeling agency and began her career on haute-couture runways while also appearing in famous magazines like Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.

Dubbed “The African Queen”, French fashion giant Yves Saint Laurent even devoted one of its collections to her. 

Mathangi Maya Arulpragasam, M.I.A. pose for a photo during a photo-call on the film
Mathangi Maya Arulpragasam, M.I.A. pose for a photo during a photo-call on the film "Matangi/Maya/M.I.A."' during the 68th Berlin International Film Festival at the Berlinale Palast in Berlin, Germany on February 17, 2018. (AA)

M.I.A

Maya Arulpragasam, a rapper, singer, producer and activist was raised in Sri Lanka but marked by constant displacement until her family emigrated her to London in 1986 during the Sri Lankan civil war.

She has achieved global fame with her politically charged music and is the only artist to be nominated for the five honours of Academy Award, Brit Award, Grammy Award, Mercury Prize and Alternative Turner prize.

In 2019 she was also appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).

In 1989, nine-year-old Spektor emigrated to the United States along with her parents, aunts, uncles and cousins
In 1989, nine-year-old Spektor emigrated to the United States along with her parents, aunts, uncles and cousins (Facebook / Regina Spektor)

Regina Spektor

The famous singer was born in Moscow, and at the age of nine, moved to New York City, escaping religious oppression in what was then the Soviet Union.

Faced with her share of anti-Semitism in Russia, Regina along with her whole family including her parents, uncles and cousins fled the country to move to the Bronx, New York. Their passports were destroyed by Russian border security to ensure that Regina and her family could never return home. 

Regina has released dozens of albums since 2001.  

file photo dated April 26, 2000 shows World and Olympic champion in weightlifting, Naim Suleymanoglu of Turkey, lifting during the 79th European Weightlifting Championship in Sofia, Bulgaria on April 26, 2000. Bulgaria-born Turkish weightlifter Naim Suleymanoglu set his first world record in 1982 and then won gold medals, at Seoul Olympics in 1988, at Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and at Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Naim Suleymanoglu has died at the age of 50, on November 18, 2017.
file photo dated April 26, 2000 shows World and Olympic champion in weightlifting, Naim Suleymanoglu of Turkey, lifting during the 79th European Weightlifting Championship in Sofia, Bulgaria on April 26, 2000. Bulgaria-born Turkish weightlifter Naim Suleymanoglu set his first world record in 1982 and then won gold medals, at Seoul Olympics in 1988, at Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and at Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Naim Suleymanoglu has died at the age of 50, on November 18, 2017. (AA)

Naim Suleymanoglu

Born in 1967 in a Turkish family living in the southern Bulgarian town of Momchilgrad, Naim Suleymanoglu was always interested in wrestling despite being just 1.47 meter tall.

When he was 15, he broke a world record in Brazil in weightlifting. 

On the other hand, Todor Zhivkov’s communist regime in Bulgaria was carrying out assimilation policies against Turks living in Bulgaria. Between 1980 to 1990, almost 500,000 Turks were forced to flee Bulgaria and that was also when Naim was forced to change his Turkish name to "Naum Shalamanov."

The incident triggered Naim’s defection during the Weightlifting World Cup in Melbourne in 1986, where he won the gold medal in 60 kilogram category.

Thanks to the help of Turkish government at the time, Naim was first flown to London, then arrived in Istanbul and later whisked to Ankara on a private jet.

When the crisis with Bulgarian regime was resolved, he was able to compete for Turkey which paved the way for him to make a worldwide mark in the 1988 Seoul Olympics when he broke six world and nine Olympic records, in addition to bringing the first gold medal to Turkey in a field other than wrestling.

He also won gold medals at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. 

Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai (L) and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (R) are seen during a ceremony after she was received UN Peace Envoy in New York, United States on April 10, 2017.
Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai (L) and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (R) are seen during a ceremony after she was received UN Peace Envoy in New York, United States on April 10, 2017. (AA)

Malala Yousafzai

Born in 1997, in Pakistan's Swat Valley, Malala survived an assassination attempt at the age of 15 when the Taliban gunmen shot at her in 2012 when she was on her way back from school. 

A strong advocate for girls' education in a place where the Taliban has made violent attempts to keep girls away from schools, Malala is an inspiration and voice for tens of thousands of girls around the world.  In 2014, she became the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate.

The bullet injury left Malala in critical condition. She was taken to a military hospital in Peshawar where a portion of her skull was removed to treat Malala’s brain injury. 

Afterwards, she was transferred to the UK for further care. 

A year after the attack, she gave a speech at the United Nations and published her first book, “I Am Malala.” 

Syrian civil engineer Anan Jakich risked her life to bring her family to safety. Now a refugee in Germany, she has joined a community of women newcomers rebuilding their lives through a shared love of technology.
Syrian civil engineer Anan Jakich risked her life to bring her family to safety. Now a refugee in Germany, she has joined a community of women newcomers rebuilding their lives through a shared love of technology. (UNHCR)

Anan Jakich

Anan Jakich left her home in the Syrian city of Salamiyah in 2014 because the war had turned dirty with militias and armed groups controlling the streets and engaging in gunfights in civilian neighbourhoods.

At first, the 51-year-old civil engineer traveled to Turkey and then sat on a tiny overcrowded vessel to enter Greece. At one point during the journey she felt she would die. She spent a day without food or water and was then rescued by a team of volunteers. 

A few weeks later, she was granted asylum in Germany, where she longed to see her children and worried about their safety. A year later, she reunited with her family in Germany.  

A qualified engineer, Anan realised she needed to brush up her IT skills as she was robbed of the opportunity to upgrade her skills on the computer. 

In Germany, she heard about ReDI school, a non-profit organisation offering free IT lectures and digital courses, and quickly enrolled herself there.  

In 2018, she became the first woman to join ReDI’s Digital Women’s Programme in which a series of all-female courses are being conducted in order to teach more women about technology. 

Source: TRT World