British Olympic track star Mo Farah has disclosed that he was trafficked from the African country of Djibouti to the U.K. at age nine and forced to work as a domestic servant for a family in London. Farah made this known to BBC in a documentary scheduled to air Wednesday.
“Most people know me as Mo Farah, but it’s not my name, or it’s not the reality,” the Olympic great said, adding that his real name is Hussein Abdi Kahin. “The truth is I’m not who you think I am.”
“I was brought into the U.K. illegally under the name of another child called Mohamed Farah.”
Farah had said in the past that he came to the U.K. as a refugee from Somalia with his parents. But in the documentary clips released by the BBC, the track star said that his father was killed in a civil war when he was four. He said his mother and brothers have never been to Britain as they are still living in the breakaway state of Somaliland.
According to Farah, when he was around nine, he was taken to Djibouti to stay with relatives. It was from there that a woman he had never met took him to the UK. He said the woman told him he was going to stay with family members in Britain. She further asked him to say his name was Mohamed Farah and gave him false travel documents.
Getting to London, the woman took Farah to her flat in west London and destroyed a piece of paper that had the contact details of Farah’s relatives.
“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 told BBC.
And truly, from that moment, Farah had to do domestic labor in order to eat. He usually locked himself in the bathroom to cry. “And she said: ‘If you ever want to see your family again, don’t say anything. If you say anything, they will take you away.'”
Farah was able to go to school after some years. The woman he lived with told the school he was a refugee from Somalia. He always went to school “unkempt and uncared for” and spoke very little English, according to the BBC. Alan Watkinson, who was his PE teacher, told the BBC that the only language Farah seemed to understand was the language of PE and sport.
Watkinson said Farah told him about his situation and so he contacted social services. Farah was subsequently fostered by another Somali family.
“I still missed my real family, but from that moment everything got better,” Farah told the BBC. “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.”
At 14, Farrah was invited to take part in a running competition in Latvia, but he didn’t have any travel documents. His PE teacher Watkinson helped him apply for British citizenship under the name Mohamed Farah, and it was granted in 2000.
A lawyer has said that Farah’s citizenship was “obtained by fraud or misrepresentations,” which means the British government can remove his nationality since it was not obtained through legal means. That is however not likely to happen as Farah was a victim of trafficking, officials say.
Britain’s Home Office in a statement has said that “no action whatsoever will be taken against Sir Mo and to suggest otherwise is wrong.”
Farah, who has since met his mother and siblings in Somaliland thanks to the Somali community in London, said he wanted to share his story to change perceptions of trafficking and slavery.
“I had no idea there was so many people who are going through exactly the same thing that I did. It just shows how lucky I was. What really saved me, what made me different, was that I could run,” he said.
Farah was knighted in 2017 by Queen Elizabeth II. He won four gold medals in distance running at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. He also won the Chicago Marathon in 2018.