Mo Farah, the first British track and field athlete to win four Olympic gold medals, has revealed that he was trafficked to the UK as a child. He was forced to work as a domestic servant. British officials said it would not put his citizenship at risk.
Four-Time Olympic Gold Medalist Mo Farah Says He Was Trafficked To The UK As A Child
Olympic star, Sir Mo Farah was brought to the UK illegally as a child and forced to work as a domestic servant, he has revealed.
He was given the name Mohamed Farah by those who flew him over from Djibouti. His real name is Hussein Abdi Kahin. He was flown over from the East African country aged nine by a woman he had never met, and then made to look after another family's children, he says.
"For years I just kept blocking it out," the Team GB athlete says.
"But you can only block it out for so long."
The long-distance runner has previously said he came to the UK from Somalia with his parents as a refugee.
"For years I just kept blocking it out," the Team GB athlete says. "But you can only block it out for so long."
The long-distance runner has previously said he came to the UK from Somalia with his parents as a refugee. The stunning disclosure significantly rewrote the life story of Farah, one of Britain’s most famous sportsmen. It also raised questions about his citizenship status in a country where battles over immigration have in recent years become a polarizing issue in domestic politics.
“Most people know me as Mo Farah, but it’s not my name, or it’s not the reality,” he said in a BBC documentary scheduled to be released on Wednesday.
“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 U.K.,” Farah said in clips of the documentary that were released on Monday. His father, Abdi, was killed by stray gunfire when Sir Mo was four years old, in civil violence in Somalia.
Somaliland declared independence in 1991 but is not internationally recognised.
Sir Mo says he was about eight or nine years old when he was taken from home to stay with family in Djibouti. He was then flown over to the UK by a woman he had never met and wasn't related to. She told him he was being taken to Europe to live with relatives there - something he says he was "excited" about. "I'd never been on a plane before," he says.
The woman told him to say his name was Mohamed. He says she had fake travel documents with her that showed his photo next to the name "Mohamed Farah". When they arrived in the UK, the woman took him to her flat in Hounslow, west London, and took a piece of paper off him that had his relatives' contact details on.
"Right in front of me, she ripped it up and put it in the bin. At that moment, I knew I was in trouble," he says. Sir Mo says he had to do housework and childcare "if I wanted food in my mouth". He says the woman told him: "If you ever want to see your family again, don't say anything." "Often I would just lock myself in the bathroom and cry," he says.
For the first few years the family didn't allow him to go to school, but when he was about 12 he enrolled in Year 7 at Feltham Community College.
Staff were told Sir Mo was a refugee from Somalia.
His old form tutor Sarah Rennie tells the BBC he came to school "unkempt and uncared for", that he spoke very little English and was an "emotionally and culturally alienated" child. She says the people who said they were his parents didn't attend any parents' evenings.
Sir Mo's PE teacher, Alan Watkinson, noticed a transformation in the young boy when he hit the athletics track. "The only language he seemed to understand was the language of PE and sport," he says. He eventually confided in Mr Watkinson about his true identity, his background, and the family he was being forced to work for.
The PE teacher contacted social services and helped Sir Mo to be fostered by another Somali family. "I still missed my real family, but from that moment everything got better," Sir Mo says.
"I felt like a lot of stuff was lifted off my shoulders, and I felt like me. That's when Mo came out - the real Mo." In July 2000, with the help of Watkinson, Farah was granted British citizenship under the name Mohamed Farah.
Mo Farah, a distance runner, won two gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics, in the 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter races.
He successfully repeated as champion in both races four years later at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, winning gold despite a dramatic fall halfway through the 10,000. Sir Mo Farah was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2017.
He has competed in major marathons since briefly retiring from competitive track and field in 2017, and set a national record after winning the 2018 Chicago Marathon with a time of 2 hours 5 minutes 11 seconds.
Sir Mo was reunited with his mother, Aisha, through a woman in London's Somali community.
"Never in my life did I think I would see you or your children alive," she tells Sir Mo. "We were living in a place with nothing, no cattle, and destroyed land. We all thought we were dying. 'Boom, boom, boom,' was all we heard. I sent you away because of the war. I sent you off to your uncle in Djibouti so you could have something."
When Sir Mo asks Aisha who decided he would be taken from Djibouti to the UK, she says: "No-one told me. I lost contact with you. We didn't have phones, roads or anything. There was nothing here. The land was devastated."
Immigration laws have undergone numerous changes in the three decades since Sir Mo arrived in Britain.
The current government has brought in a significant package of hardline laws in the Nationality and Borders Act, which seeks to make it easier to criminalise people reaching the UK irregularly and make it harder for them to stay in Britain.
A Home Office spokesperson said it would be taking “no action whatsoever” against Sir Mo and that its guidance states that children are not considered complicit in “gaining citizenship by deception”.
The department denies treating Sir Mo differently because of his status, and says the same decision would be made for anyone in the same circumstances.