True idol across the Channel and world legend of athletics, the runner Mo Farah broke the silence, in mid-July, by admitting, in a documentary broadcast by the BBC, to have hidden the true story of his arrival in Great Britain, and his real name, which would be Hussein Abdi Kahin. Mo Farah, who actually arrived from Somaliland without his parents, had to fight for more than thirty years, with the heavy burden of a secret that did not prevent him from becoming one of the best runners in the history and one of Britain’s most beloved sportsmen. Portrait.
Wednesday July 13, on the BBC, in prime time. The announcement takes the whole of Britain by surprise, as it sees one of its national idols, Mo Farah, tell the true story of his life. The athlete reveals a very heavy secret: the story of his life is not the one known to everyone, but a much heavier migratory and personal journey.
“It is true that I said that my parents had come to the United Kingdom and that my story was different from the one I am telling today. But the weight of the years and the desire to tell the truth, for me , for my family and for my loved ones, was very important. I could not live with this forever”, specifies the six-time world champion of the 5,000 and 10,000 meters to InfoMigrants, visibly relieved to share his secret and his heavy past. Because, before the glory on the tracks around the world, Mo Farah accelerated his life in one of the most unstable places on the planet and under another name, that of his true identity: Hussein Abdi Kahin.
The young Hussein takes his first steps in the separatist region of Somaliland, where his family lives despite the tensions and the raids of the army of the central power of Mogadishu which tries to annihilate by all means the actions of the local separatists. The little boy is four years old when his family is struck by a first tragedy. His father was killed in a clash with the national army and left behind three children, and his wife, who had to take care of the siblings alone. “The family was destroyed, we had lost our pillar, our head of the family, the figurehead of our siblings. From there, the situation became more and more difficult for my mother and mine, who did not know Really what tomorrow would be made of. Until I left at the age of 9, we had my mother’s love, but our daily lives were filled with troubles and fears linked to the context of the region”, specifies Mo Farah.
He tries to help his mother, Aïsha, by collecting objects in the street, but life becomes more and more complicated for the clan, and the little Hussein is therefore sent to Djibouti, to family members, in order to bring him to safety in a country increasingly confronted with violence.
>> To read: Somaliland: the “tahrib”, a tragedy for young people who want to leave the country
The hell of modern slavery
A way out which, at first, seems saving, but which quickly turns into a nightmare for the young person, who finds himself in an ambush without knowing it. “I ended up with some people from my family, and I felt in good hands. But one day, a woman who I had never heard of and who was not even from my family came to see us. and told me that she was going to take me to Europe with her. I was going to fly for the first time in my life, it was just unimaginable for a kid like me who comes from such a complicated place.
He therefore flew to London, hoping to join members of his family. But a first detail jumps out at him: the person he is traveling with asks him to call himself Mohamed Farah, as written on the documents she managed to recover from another young boy, to bring him to Europe and advises him to forget his true identity.
When they arrive in the British capital, they find themselves in a small flat in Hounslow, in the west of the city, and Hussein – who now calls himself Mo, for Mohammed – realizes that his new life is taking a turn. unexpected, and dramatic. “One of the first things she did was to tear up the document in front of me that had all the names and contacts of people in my family who lived in England. felt prisoner, humiliated and devastated to find myself in such a situation. My ordeal continued, “recalls the athlete.
Within the family of this woman, he is forced to do housework, but also to take care of the children, and is deprived of school until he is 11 years old.
>> To read: Migrant children: “The dangers do not end when they arrive in Europe”
“It was modern slavery, human trafficking, no shame, no humanity. If I wasn’t working, I wasn’t eating. To do this to a human being, to a child, is just They told me to keep quiet or I would never see my family again. educators. I was under their yoke, under their total control. It wasn’t the life I wanted, and I was trying to find a way to think about something else, so I wouldn’t cry alone in my bed and think of my family back home,” says Mo Farah.
Athletics as a lifeline
It is on the athletics tracks that the young Mohammed once again experiences joy. At school, he encounters difficulties because of the delay removed and struggles in particular to overcome major weaknesses in English. But his classmates at the time remember that Mohammed finds a smile when he runs. “Mo, he was flying on the slopes, he was running endlessly, and he seemed free”, smiles still today Thomas Vingson, a childhood friend contacted by InfoMigrants. “We didn’t know much about him, he was very discreet but when he was on the track, he was unstoppable. He seemed possessed. We didn’t know anything about his ordeal, and now I also understand that he had at that time of his life only one way out: running”.
At 12, young Mo Farah meets one of the men who will change his life: Alan Watkinson, his son, a physical education teacher. The teenager finally sees light at the end of the tunnel.
Professor Watkinson has no doubts: he knows that Mo is something special, but he also needs help. “Our relationship quickly developed into something very transparent, he quickly knew he could trust me,” says Alan Watkinson, who for InfoMigrants dives back into this period. “The day he told me his story and the fact that his identity was not the one that appeared on his papers, and that he was exploited, I could not sit idle. I did everything to that social services place him in a healthy family where he could grow up loved and supported.”
The teacher becomes a kind of substitute father for the young Mo, who discovers a new home and can see the future a little more serenely, far from the condition of a child slave. “It was a release, a huge breath of fresh air. As soon as I was in this new family, I finally felt safe and free. I don’t want anyone to go through this, it seems that we come back to life”, smiles the athlete.
Alan Watkinson gives him advice on running, but also, and above all, pushes the English administration to unblock his situation to get him a passport. At 14, Mo Farah, who is already one of the country’s top running hopefuls, cannot travel abroad. His career is threatened by his precarious administrative status, he who only has Somali nationality, but no longer has a passport because he is under the supervision of the British Ministry of Social Affairs.
The child slave who became an athletics legend
Over the years, Mo Farah won all the national 5000 meter competitions and won 5 titles in the top running schools in the country. The young man begins to make a name for himself on the athletics scene. In 2000, his first wish came true: he became a British citizen. It is finally possible for him to participate in international competitions. The following year, he won the title of European Junior Champion in the 5,000 meters. “This success was the start of everything. It gave me a huge boost and I realized even more that I had a special talent. Where I came from, and with the life I had had until my adolescence, full of difficulties and without freedom, I had to do everything so that this opportunity to succeed materializes”, says Mo Farah.
Over the following years, the athlete accumulated gold medals and European and world titles in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. The runner becomes the world figure of running and destabilizes the hierarchy of the discipline very often ultra dominated by Kenyan athletes. Mo Farah becomes the main attraction of the Olympic Games (OG) of London, in 2012, alongside Usain Bolt. The people’s idol delivered two of the best performances in the history of athletics, as a high point. He flies over both races, and becomes a double Olympic champion on Her Majesty’s land, thus becoming a national idol. His face is now on the front page of every UK newspaper.
He did it again four years later, at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), with a new double in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres. Mo Farah is unstoppable and has won 34 career titles, including 10 major titles (4 Olympic titles and 6 world titles), making him the greatest male runner in history and the greatest individual record in British sport.
“Giving a voice to the most vulnerable”
But the legend Mo Farah, knighted by the crown in 2014, is not limited to the athletics tracks. He wants, more than ever, to become someone who uses his aura and his fame to help the migrant cause. “I want to help make migrants speak, to give a voice to the most vulnerable and to announce slavery and human trafficking in a difficult time where foreigners are too often singled out”, affirms- he. “My story is one of millions and people need to know the hardships, traumas and extreme hardships that people who are trafficked go through. It’s a global cause.”
With his foundation, he finances projects related to childhood and aid to migrants. And the impact of the revelation of his true story is already being felt. Several associations linked to the aid of migrants across Great Britain have seen their number of calls explode as well as the British social services line, which is receiving a very strong increase in requests from people wanting to give themselves up and to indicate possible cases of human trafficking in their entourage. “Speech is freed and this is the first step towards recognizing a deep, too common, and unacceptable problem, rejoices the athlete. We do not have the right to treat people like slaves, we do not “has no right to deprive them of their freedoms and rights. I will fight all my life so that this cause does not remain silenced.