Farah’s story may help other victims of trafficking – FOX23 News

LONDON — (AP) — Until this week, Mo Farah was a four-time Olympic champion who was wrapping up his hugely successful career as a long-distance runner. Today, he is an icon for another reason: he is the most high-profile person to present himself as a victim of human trafficking.

Farah’s decision to recount how he was illegally brought to Britain as a child and forced to work as a servant has given a face to the often anonymous victims of modern slavery, victims of crime who are often shunned as “illegal” immigrants. .

“I don’t think there’s ever been a case in British public life where someone so familiar to the British public…reveals how dark, difficult and complex his story is,” said Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, a non-partisan think tank on identity and immigration. “We rarely get the voices and faces of trafficked people, but the fact that she is one of the most familiar British public figures of this century is truly extraordinary.”

Farah’s revelations have the potential to create the safe space needed for other victims of trafficking to seek help, just as artists and athletes who have come out as gay have supported the gay rights movement, Katwala said. They will also pressure authorities to ensure that those exploited by traffickers are treated as victims, not as criminals to be deported.

Farah, 39, said he decided to speak out about his experience to challenge public perceptions of trafficking and modern slavery.

His story, which has resonated around the world, comes as conflict, climate change and economic collapse displace record numbers of people around the world, pushing more and more migrants into the hands of gangs that make them smuggled into Great Britain, the European Union and the United States.

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.

More than 10,000 people were referred to UK authorities as possible victims of modern slavery in 2020, up from 2,340 in 2014, according to a report by the Home Office, the government’s border enforcement agency.

Britain has struggled to respond to this complex environment, with the government opening its doors to refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine in recent months while offering to deport ‘illegal’ immigrants from other countries who request asylum in Rwanda. While Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the Rwandan plan will break the business model of criminals smuggling people across the English Channel in small boats, immigrant advocates say the plan is illegal and inhumane.

Rob McNeil, deputy director of the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory, said Farah’s story is unlikely on its own to change British politics, but it helps shift the debate by humanizing the abstract idea of ​​an “illegal immigrant”.

“Political narratives about irregular migrants tend to treat them as a sort of cohesive group of ‘bad guys’ and a problem to be solved, rather than individuals at risk,” he said. “A softening of the UK’s rhetoric and policy towards irregular arrivals only seems likely if the wider debate focuses more on those targeted, rather than the policy failures they represent.”

In a BBC documentary aired this week, Farah said his real name is Hussein Abdi Kahin and that he was born in Somaliland, a breakaway region of war-ravaged Somalia during his childhood.

He said he was 8 or 9 years old and living in neighboring Djibouti when a woman he did not know brought him to Britain using fake travel documents which included his picture alongside named after Mohammed Farah, which became his identity.

Farah said he was excited because he had never flown and thought he was going to Europe to live with relatives. Instead, the woman took him to a west London flat, tore up a piece of paper with contact details of his relatives and forced him to look after his children, Farah said. He was not allowed to go to school until he was 12 years old.

It was then that Farah’s talent as a runner helped him escape his life of servitude. Farah said he confided in a physical education teacher who arranged for him to live with another Somali family.

After that, he bottled up his emotions and kept the truth about his childhood a secret. He described the outpouring of support that followed the documentary as “incredible”.

“It took me a long time to get to this point, but I’m glad I made this documentary to show people the reality of what really happened to me as a kid,” he said. told the BBC in an interview broadcast on Wednesday.

The Metropolitan Police Service in London said it was “assessing” the information raised in the documentary.

Charity workers, lawyers and others who help victims of modern slavery praised Farah’s courage to come forward and said the publicity would help bring humanity into the debate. Many victims, they say, struggle for years to escape and overcome the trauma caused by their exploitation.

“Knowing that there is someone, however tragic, who has been there, who has been successful and successful in their chosen field and who speaks about their lived experience is an extremely important thing,” said said Ryna Sherazi. , director of fundraising and communications at Anti-Slavery International, a charity that works to end slavery around the world.

Until this week, Farah said he had come to Britain as a refugee with his family. This is the story he told British immigration officials when he became a citizen in 2000 aged 17.

He went on to represent Britain at three Olympics, winning gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races in 2012 and 2016. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2017.

Despite his fame, Farah said he feared deportation if he told the truth about his arrival in Britain. He expressed relief that after the documentary aired, the Home Office pledged not to take action against him.

Nando Sigona, a migration expert at the University of Birmingham, attributed the Home Office’s “light reaction” to the fact that the ruling Conservative Party is in the midst of a leadership election.

“At this point, it’s not clear if the Mo Farah case will lead to anything good for others,” Sigona said. “The risk is that this will remain a story that only garners sympathy because it involves an exceptionally talented person.”

The documentary ends with Farah still wondering why he was brought to the UK. Back in Africa, his mother tells him that she never agreed to him going to England and only lost contact because of the war and poor communications in her native country.

But as Farah reveals her plan to expose her past, her mother offers her unconditional support.

“Lying is a sin,” she told him.

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