Earlier this week, we were struck by Sir Mo Farah’s decision to reveal that he had been a victim of human trafficking, and that many details of his apparent childhood were false.
He flew over with false papers and a human trafficker, who had to remind him of his new name (Mo) in the immigration queue. Born Hussein Abdi Kahin, he was subject to entrapment and forced labour, and coerced into domestic servitude. He was only allowed to start going to school from Year 7. The name Mo Farah was stolen from another boy (they are now in contact).
It was revealed that Farah did not come to the UK with his parents as a refugee, but was a victim of human trafficking. Neither of his parents ever lived in the UK - his father was, in fact, killed by a stray bullet in the Somalian civil conflict.
There have been a wide range of reactions to the revelation and the documentary on his story. It has, amongst other things, reminded us of a nasty undercurrent of anti-immigrant hostility present in the discourse around migration. Instead of expressing sympathy for what Farah has endured, some sought to attack him for “exploiting” the privileges he might enjoy as a revered public figure. Some even suggested that criminal proceedings should be initiated on the basis that Farah used a fake identity to enter the country - despite the fact that the Modern Slavery Act explicitly excludes trafficking survivors from such treatment.
Happily, these voices have been drowned out by an overwhelming outpouring of support for Farah’s intervention.This is important, because Farah’s trafficking testimony is typical of so many victims - his courage will help others to speak out and to diminish the stigma that silences the lived experience of so many So much about Sir Mo’s story will be shared by thousands, perhaps millions, of others: civil violence and the loss of a parent; a family torn apart; isolation; and eventual exploitation. What makes Farah atypical, obviously, is his athletic career following his rescue from domestic servitude.
There are a few takeaways from the story, the first being that the conflation between trafficking, smuggling and illegal immigration limits our ability to address human trafficking with the compassion and pragmatism it deserves. The second is that we must never be complacent about the need to renew our commitment to human dignity in the light of some in society intent on “othering”. Finally, we are reminded by Sir Mo’s honesty and courage , that trafficking victims are all around us - and deserve help and acceptance.
Like all survivors, Farah, once called Kahin, deserves our respect.