Mo Farah’s story draws horror and understanding in Somalia

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Many Somalis are reacting with horror — and a sense of understanding — to British racer Mo Farah’s story of being trafficked to Britain as a child and forced to take care of other children.

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Many Somalis are reacting with horror — and a sense of understanding — to British racer Mo Farah’s story of being trafficked to Britain as a child and forced to take care of other children.

Olympic champion Farah was born in what is now Somaliland, a Gulf of Aden territory that asserted independence from the Horn of Africa nation of Somalia. In a BBC documentary aired earlier this week, Farah revealed how, when he was 8 or 9, he was separated from his family and trafficked from neighboring Djibouti to the UK under a new name under which he eventually raced for glory.

Here in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, those who heard of Farah’s story are expressing their sadness for what he experienced as a child forced into bonded labor. But they also point out that he was not the only one to face exploitation.

Conflict, climate change and economic collapse are displacing record numbers of people around the world, pushing more and more migrants into the hands of criminals who profit by smuggling them to Britain, the European Union and in the United States.

Somalis, like their neighbors in Ethiopia and Eritrea, are often among the desperate – people fleeing conflict and hunger in hopes of safety and a better life. Convinced they have little to lose, young people in particular risk their lives on flimsy boats organized by human traffickers across the English Channel to Britain.

Those who can afford it pay thousands of dollars to travel to the countries where they hope to find employment and security. Others fall prey to criminals who force them into prostitution, drug crimes and domestic servitude.

Rich countries lack strong policies to respond to this complicated situation. Britain has taken in refugees from Ukraine, for example, while offering to deport asylum seekers from other places to Rwanda. As Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Rwanda’s plan will smash the business model of criminals smuggling people across the English Channel in rubber dinghies, immigrant activists are pushing ahead with a plan they say is illegal and inhumane .

Farah, who represented Britain at three consecutive Summer Olympics in 2008, 2012 and 2016, is a rare achievement. Many others trying to escape poverty, hunger and violence in countries like Somalia are not so lucky – the reason many activists here say efforts must be made to help local governments eradicate the many reasons why people want to leave.

“It is certainly sad that Mo Farah had such a bad experience as a boy,” said Ahmed Dini, who heads the Mogadishu-based children’s rights group Peace-Line. “It has become clear that there are many contributing factors to child trafficking, such as poverty, a lack of proper education and insufficient security.

Farah still has family members, including her mother and two brothers, who live on a farm near Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. He said in the BBC film that his father was killed during Troubles when the boy was 4 years old.

In the documentary, produced by the BBC and Red Bull Studios, Farah said when he left Africa he thought he was going to Europe to live with relatives and had a piece of paper with contact details. But the woman he ended up with tore up his papers and took him to a west London flat where he was forced to look after his children.

Farah said his fortunes in Britain changed when he was finally allowed to attend school. A teacher who was interviewed for the documentary recalled a 12-year-old boy who seemed “neglected and neglected”, was “emotionally and culturally alienated” and spoke little English.

Farah eventually told her story to a physical education instructor. The teacher contacted local officials, who arranged for a Somali family to take him in as a foster child. He quickly flourished on the track.

Anti-slavery advocates say Farah is the most high-profile person to come forward as a victim of modern slavery, a crime that is often hidden because it happens behind closed doors and inflicts such trauma on its victims.

Now that such a famous man has spoken about his experience, there can be no doubt about the horror of child bondage, even among ordinary Somalis who would otherwise find his account “unusual”, said Bashir Abdi, an academic based in Mogadishu.

“Children are constantly being abused, but the story that this renowned athlete revealed caught the attention of many people, including Somalis,” he said. and abuse, but little is exposed to the public.

Amina Ali, a stay-at-home mother of four in Mogadishu, told The Associated Press that it was difficult for her to hear the story of a 9-year-old boy “so weak and helpless being forced to clean the house and to change other people’s diapers”. kids.”

“As a mother, I felt sadness for him once I listened,” she said. “Praise be to Allah that he is no longer in these circumstances. However, he is now at a time when he can come out with his story and I hope that those (who) committed this abuse are brought to justice one day.”


Associated Press writer Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda contributed to this report.

Omar Faruk, Associated Press

Carol N. Valencia