Five famous African women who were once refugees

To commemorate World Refugee Day, ONE celebrates five powerful women who were once refugees but who over came various challenges and today stand as beacons of hope to many people all over the world.


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Photo – The Coincidental Dandy: Alek Wek

Alek Wek

Fashion Super Model

Home country: Sudan

Country of exile: United Kingdom

Quote: “I have no problem with whatever the next big look is. Just don’t try and tell me that only one look is beautiful.”

Alek Wek is a world famous super model. As her child, she and her family fled the civil war in South Sudan for the United Kingdom. She was the first African to be featured on the cover of Elle Magazine.


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Photo – Melafestivalen: Maryam Mursal

Maryam Mursal


Home country: Somalia

Country of exile: Denmark

Quote: “We as artists are responsible if something wrong is taking place in our society. It’s very important for us to speak up, even though we may have to do it with a double tongue. We have to speak out for our people.”

Maryam Mursal is a renouned Somali musician who as a teenager, broke tradition and began singing professionally. Later in her music career, she criticized Somalia’s then ruling government, and was banned from singing for two years, and made her living driving a taxi. During the civil war in Somalia, Mursal and her children moved to Djibouti, where she found asylum in the Danish embassy. She currently lives and works as a musician in Europe.


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Photo – RobinAKirk: (Nawal El Saadawi middle)

Nawal El Saadawi

Eqyptian Activist and author

Home country: Egypt

Country of exile: United States

Quotes: “Unity is power, without unity women cannot fight for their rights anywhere.”
Nawal El Saadawi, an Egyptian feminist and activist endured months of imprisonment under the late President Anwar Sadat because of her writings. She lost her job and had to spend five years in exile. She continues to be one of the most prominent campaigners for women’s rights in Egypt and the Arab world.


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Photo – Foreign & Commonwealth Office: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

Current AU Chairperson, politician

Home country: South Africa

Country of exile: United Kingdom

Quote: “The choice of African Union’s theme this year [2015] is indeed an opportunity for us to demonstrate our commitment to the empowerment of African women to make it a reality rather than a mere statement.”

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is a South African politican. In the early 1970s, Dlamini-Zuma became an active underground member of the (then banned) African National Congress (ANC). During the same year Dr. Dlamini-Zuma faced persecution and fled into exile. Dr Zuma is the first female chairperson of the African Union.


Yolande Mukagasana Clemence Evariste

Photo - MaxiKohan: Yolande Mukagasana Clemence Evariste

Photo – MaxiKohan: Yolande Mukagasana Clemence Evariste

Nurse, Human Rights Campaigner

Home country: Rwanda

Country of exile: Belgium

Quote: “Generalisations only favour the killers… I was saved by a Hutu.”

Yolande Mukagasana Clemence Evariste is a Human Rights defender, author, and nurse. As a Tutsi, she managed to escape the Rwandan genocide and flee to Belgium, where she was granted refugee status in 1995. She has written a couple of books including “La mort ne veut pas de moi” (“Death Does Not Want Me”)