It was one of the major talking points of the week. The British icon and most successful track distance runner of all time, Sir Mo Farah, revealed this week that the story he had told the world was, in fact, not true.
Mo Farah (as he is now known), was born as Hussein Abdi Kahin in Somaliland. After losing his father at a young age and being sent by his mother to nearby Djibouti, he was then illegally trafficked to the UK at the age of nine under the name Mohammed Farah and forced to work as a domestic servant. He had originally told the world that he had left Somalia aged eight to join his father. In reality, his father was killed in a civil war in Somaliland.
His PE teacher subsequently rescued him from his domestic servitude situation and helped him to apply for British citizenship under the name Mohammed Farah. Farah would go on to be an icon of British sport, a role model for young runners, and a knight. However it wasn’t until July 2022 that his true story was revealed.
The revelation comes during a time when the UK debate over immigration is highly fractious. The Rwanda policy (which we talked in about recent articles (see here)) has been delayed by the courts but is likely to continue given that it is supported by all of the Conservative leadership hopefuls. Whether Farah’s story has a lasting impact on the immigration debate remains to be seen.
But what does Farah’s case tell us about human trafficking in the UK, and would it have been quite so easy for someone like him to gain citizenship today? Keep reading to find out.
What can we learn about this case from a legal perspective?
Firstly, it’s important to point out that the Home Office have made it clear that they won’t be taking action against Sir Mo. Whether this would be the case if he wasn’t one of Britain’s most successful Olympians and a knight of the realm is another matter. To emphasise this point, it was made clear to Farah by his barrister that his British citizenship could be at risk because it was obtained “by fraud or misrepresentations” given that his real name was not Mohammed Farah. However, the Home Office made clear that they wouldn’t be taking action because the assumption is that a child is not complicit when a citizenship is gained by deception.
The case also brings to light the extent to which human trafficking and domestic servitude blights the UK. In 2020, the US State Department estimated that there were approximately 13,000 trafficking victims in the UK. 2021 saw a 10% rise in the number of child trafficking victims who have been identified in the UK, a total of 5,468. 2,477 of these are children, like Mo Farah, who had been trafficked into the UK. While the UK does clearly suffer from the blight of human trafficking, it is also ranked as a Tier-1 country in the US State Department’s annual report. This means that it complies with the minimum standard set by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.
The Nationality and Borders Act 2022
While the approach towards tackling human trafficking has improved in the UK with the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, experts say that the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 has potentially made child victims of human trafficking less likely to come forward. The Nationality and Borders Act can result in a case being weakened if a victim of human trafficking does not come forward quickly, and the process of age-processing young asylum seekers has been taken away from social workers and put in the hands of border officials.
With only 2% of child trafficking victims being granted discretionary leave to remain according to government figures, something they are entitled to under international law. Furthermore, of all over 18’s who were trafficked illegally to the UK as unaccompanied children, just 35% were initially refused asylum in 2020. This puts current and future victims in a very difficult position. The creation of a two-tier asylum system in the Nationality and Borders Act creates a distinction between those who arrived in the UK legally, Group 1, and those who arrive in the UK illegally, Group 2. Farah would therefore have fallen into the Group 2 category, meaning that his route to citizenship would be longer. His path to citizenship now would have been temporary asylum status under the 10-year route, despite not having any control of his actions as a child.
What will happen now?
While Farah has been absolved of any wrongdoing by the police and told by the Home Office that “no action will be taken whatsoever against Sir Mo”, this does not mean that the matter is over. The Metropolitan Police have subsequently launched an investigation into the claims by Farah that he was trafficked into the UK and forced into domestic servitude. This will include investigating the couple which brought him into the UK and made him cook, clean and babysit. We wait to see if anything comes of this investigation.
Firstly, we must commend Farah for his bravery in revealing the truth to the world about his true identity and the circumstances which brought him to the UK. Now 39, and no longer an Olympic athlete, it would have been easy for him to continue life with the spotlight off him. Sir Mo’s story has shed a light on the dark underbelly of human trafficking, and one would hope that it may help people and those in positions of power to sympathise with victims of similar circumstances. While we celebrate Farah’s achievements and the fact that the Home Office was so quick to reassure people that there was no threat to his British citizenship, it clearly should not be the case that the same is not true for those with a much lower profile.
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