The true story of Sir Mo Farah's journey to the UK has been revealed as the British Olympian opened up about his harrowing experience as a young child, being illegally trafficked into the country he now calls home.
Previously, Mo had held his story close to his chest - claiming he entered the UK as a refugee. "For years I just kept blocking it out," he said, "but you can only block it out for so long."
The Olympian's original account of his journey had been that he left Somalia, with three of his six siblings, to join his dad in London.
However, during a BBC documentary titled The Real Mo Farah, he says that his story, and his name, aren't as he'd claimed. “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.”
Per the Guardian (opens in new tab), the heartbreaking truth is that Mo's father, Abdi, was killed in the civil war in his native country - which left his family utterly bereft. “I was separated from my mother," he explained, "and I was brought into the UK illegally under the name of another child called Mohamed Farah.”
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Mo came to Britain, aged 9, with a complete stranger, under a different child's name, and was forced to work for a married couple who treated him horrifically. As a young child, who didn't speak any English, his only link to his family was a piece of paper with his family's contact details on it.
"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 said, adding that he had to look after the house and the children if he wanted to eat. Even more devastatingly, Sir Mo said that the woman of the household threatened him, "If you ever want to see your family again, don't say anything."
Living his young life under stress and loneliness, the athlete admitted, "Often I would just lock myself in the bathroom and cry."
Initially, Sir Mo wasn't allowed to attend school but that all changed when he was 12 years old and took a place at Feltham Community College, joining Year 7. The school had been told he was a refugee from Somalia.
BBC News (opens in new tab)reports that his form tutor told them he arrived at Feltham, "unkempt and uncared for," speaking very little English and that he was an, "emotionally and culturally alienated," young boy. She added that the people claiming to be his parents never attended any of his school events or parents' evenings.
Although his life remained hard, Feltham Community College offered him an opportunity to feel freedom in an entirely different way. Sir Mo said, "the only thing I could do to get away from this [living situation] was to get out and run."
As he achieved more success on the track and a bond grew between him and his PE teacher Alan Watkinson, Sir Mo confided in him. Alan rescued him and also helped him to apply for British citizenship using the name he was given on entering the UK.
The sports star made the decision to share his experience so people can see the reality of human trafficking and slavery. "I had no idea there was so many people who are going through exactly the same thing that I did," he said. "It just shows how lucky I was. What really saved me, what made me different, was that I could run."
In a statement, shared with woman&home, anti modern slavery charity, the Sophie Hayes Foundation (opens in new tab) said:
"It is with great sadness that we heard Sir Mo Farah’s story of being trafficked as a child. With access to support and education, he was, fortunately, able to build confidence, self-worth, and resilience."
"Today there are an estimated 130,000 enslaved people in the UK, with the majority being trafficked into the UK as young children. Sophie Hayes Foundation is the only UK anti-modern slavery charity that focuses on life beyond trafficking and exploitation. We give survivors access to education and employment opportunities regardless of their immigration status or rights to work, because they all deserve the opportunity to shape their own destiny."
If you are a victim of human trafficking and need support, contact the Sophie Hayes Foundation on:
24 Hour Confidential Referral Helpline Telephone on 0300 3038151
Modern Slavery Helpline Telephone: 08000 121 700
Aoife is Junior News Editor at woman&home.
She's an Irish journalist and writer with a background in creative writing, comedy, and TV production.
Formerly Aoife was a contributing writer at Bustle and her words can be found in the Metro, Huffpost, Delicious, Imperica, EVOKE and her poetry features in the Queer Life, Queer Love anthology.
Outside of work you might bump into her at a garden center, charity shop, hot yoga studio, lifting heavy weights, or (most likely) supping/eating some sort of delicious drink/meal.
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