Mo Farah’s story sparks horror and understanding in Somalia

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

Olympic champion Farah was born in present-day Somaliland, a territory along the Gulf of Aden that has asserted its independence from the Horn of Africa nation of Somalia. In a BBC documentary aired earlier this week, Farah revealed how, as an 8 or 9-year-old boy, he was separated from his family and trafficked from neighboring Djibouti to the UK under a new name under which he eventually competed. for the glory.

Here in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, those who have heard of Farah’s story express sadness at what he went through as a child forced into bonded labour. But they also point out that he was not alone in the face of 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 into Britain, the European Union and the US. USA

Somalis, like their neighbors in Ethiopia and Eritrea, are often among the desperate: people fleeing conflict and famine in the hope of finding 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 who take them across the English Channel to Britain.

Those who can afford it pay thousands of dollars to get to countries where they hope to find work and safety. Others fall prey to criminals who force them into sex work, drug offenses and domestic servitude.

The richest countries lack solid policies to respond to this complicated situation. Britain has taken in refugees from Ukraine, for example, and has proposed deporting asylum seekers from elsewhere to Rwanda. While Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the Rwanda plan will end the business model of criminals smuggling people across the English Channel in inflatable boats, immigrant activists are suing over a plan they describe as illegal and inhumane.

Farah, who represented Great Britain at three successive Summer Olympics starting in 2000, is a rare success story. Many others trying to escape poverty, hunger and violence in countries like Somalia are not so lucky, which is why many activists here say efforts must be made to support local governments to eradicate the many reasons why people want to leave.

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

Farah still has relatives, 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 the riots when the boy was 4 years old.

In the documentary, produced by the BBC and Red Bull Studios, Farah said that 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 her luck in Britain changed when she 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 soon flourished on the track.

Anti-slavery advocates say Farah is the most prominent person to come forward as a victim of modern slavery, a crime that is often hidden because it occurs behind closed doors and causes great trauma to its victims.

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

“Children constantly face abuse, but the story revealed by this renowned athlete has caught the attention of many people, including Somalis,” he said. “We often hear about child exploitation and I think a significant number of Somali children experience domestic violence 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 listen to the story of a 9-year-old boy “so weak and helpless forced to clean the house and change diapers every day.” Other children”. kids.”

“As a mother, I felt sadness for him once I heard about it,” she said. “Praise be to Allah that he is no longer in such circumstances. However, he is now at some point where he can reveal the story and his wish that those (who) committed that abuse be brought to justice one day.”


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


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