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Mo Farah: Athlete lauded for highlighting plight of immigrants after trafficking confession

Farah's revelation sparked discussion about the need to speak out on child-trafficking and also drew criticism of the UK's current asylum policy
Mo Farah celebrates victory and a world record in the men's one-hour event at a race meeting in Brussels, 5 September 2020 (AFP)

The revelation by the British Olympic champion Mo Farah that he had been trafficked into the UK as a child has been hailed as a "brave" confession, given the UK's new policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda to process their applications.

Farah had always claimed that he had left Somalia aged eight to join his father, after his parents had made the agonising decision to send three of their six children to London for the chance of a better life.

'Most people know me as Mo Farah, but it’s not my name or it’s not the reality'

However, in a BBC documentary to be broadcast on Wednesday, the 39-year-old says that in fact he was trafficked to London by a stranger under an assumed name after escaping war in Somalia.

“Most people know me as Mo Farah, but it’s not my name or it’s not the reality,” the four-time Olympic champion says in the film.

“The real story is I was born in Somaliland, north of Somalia, as Hussein Abdi Kahin. Despite what I’ve said in the past, my parents never lived in the UK.”

Many people took to social media to applaud Farah's bravery.

The Labour MP for Wigan, Lisa Nandy, tweeted: “I spent a decade working with children who were trafficked to the UK and everything about this is heartbreaking. But it could also be a gamechanger so thank you @mo_farah for having the courage to speak out."

Human rights activist Bella Sankey wrote: “If Sir Mo Farah was discovered at Dover today, he’d be detained, sent to live unaccompanied in a seaside hotel, likely re-trafficked. Then when he turned 18, detained again & deported to Rwanda. And ALL the Tory leadership candidates want to keep this system in place. #Forshame.”

Novara campaigning journalist Ash Sarkar tweeted: “It shouldn’t take one of the greatest athletes whose [sic] ever raced for this country for people to humanise undocumented immigrants. But may Mo Farah’s courage in speaking out allow people to see past the hate pushed out by the press and politicians. We need to change the policy.”

Lester Holloway, editor of The Voice, the UK's only Black national newspaper, responded to Farah's revelation by saying: "A common reaction to Mo Farah telling his story is ‘we know and love him, he’s earned his citizenship and honours’. This is exceptionalism - most trafficked people will never ‘earn’ a place in British hearts. We need humanity & empathy for all."

Controversial policy

The announcement by Farah sparked debate not only about the ability to speak out on child trafficking but also about the UK government's current migration policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing.

Critics said the policy was aimed at deterring refugees from seeking asylum, while the government claimed it would undermine people traffickers. 

The controversial policy is yet to be implemented after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered that the first processing flight to Rwanda be halted.

A last-minute order by the ECHR led to the cancelling of tickets for all seven passengers on the flight that was scheduled to take off on 14 June from a military base near Salisbury, Wiltshire. 

'This policy is nothing more than racist political theatre from a failing, corrupt government'

- Karen Doyle, Movement for Justice

Activist groups have criticised the policy. 

Karen Doyle, an organiser from the immigrant rights group Movement for Justice, told Middle East Eye: "This policy is nothing more than racist political theatre from a failing, corrupt government desperate to divide people and divert attention away from their crisis." 

However, the Conservative government, including the candidates currently vying to become the party's leader after the resignation of Boris Johnson, is committed to implementing it.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel vowed after the cancelled flight that the government would pursue its Rwanda policy.

“We will not be deterred," she said in a statement.

"Our legal team are reviewing every decision made on this flight and preparation for the next flight begins now."

No action against Farah

During the documentary, Farah explained that he and his twin brother, Hassan, were sent by their mother to live with an uncle in Djoubti for their safety. He recalled how a woman would keep appearing at the house and eventually told him he would be going to Europe to live with relatives. 

UK policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda criticised as 'cruel'
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When he arrived in Britain, Farah claimed he lived with a married couple who treated him badly.

“I had all the contact details for my relative and once we got to her house, the lady took it off me and right in front of me ripped them up and put it in the bin, and at that moment I knew I was in trouble,” he said in the film.

His PE teacher at school rescued him and also helped him to apply for British citizenship using his assumed name.

While Farah was worried that his revelation would affect his immigration status, the Home Office confirmed on Monday night that there would be no repercussions. 

“No action whatsoever will be taken against Sir Mo and to suggest otherwise is wrong,” said a Home Office spokesperson.

Farah spoke to the real Mo Farah at the end of the documentary, and said that he would not be changing his name back to his birth name, and would continue to be known as Mo Farah.