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Mo Farah says he was trafficked to the U.K. and forced into child labor

Mo Farah is one of the world's most successful track athletes, but he says he was first brought to the U.K. and forced to work as a child servant. He's seen here celebrating winning the One Hour Race at the Memorial Van Damme Brussels 2020 Diamond League meeting in Belgium.
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - SEPTEMBER 04: Mo Farah of Great Britain and Northern Irelands celebrates winning the One Hour Race during the Memorial Van Damme Brussels 2020 Diamond League meeting at King Baudouin Stadium on September 04, 2020 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah says he was trafficked to the U.K. under a false name and forced into child labor, revealing stunning details about the painful path that culminated in him being awarded a knighthood.

"Most people know me as Mo Farah, but it's not my name — or, it's not the reality," Farah said in a new documentary about the track star.

"The real story is, I was born in Somaliland, north of Somalia, as Hussein Abdi Kahin," he added.

Farah has previously said he came to the U.K. as a young child with his parents, fleeing the war in Somalia. But he now says his father died when Farah was four years old, and that he was soon separated from his mother and other relatives.

"I was brought into the U.K. illegally under the name of another child, called Mohammed Farah," he said. At the time, he was around 8 or 9 years old.

The documentary, made by the BBC and Red Bull Studios, includes footage of visa documents that Farah says were faked, bearing his photo and another child's name.

"I know I've taken someone else's place. And I do wonder, what is Mohammed doing now?" he said in the documentary, clips of which are posted on the BBC's website.

The woman who brought Farah into the U.K. had told him he would soon join his relatives in the country. He carried a piece of paper with his family members' contact information on it. But after arriving, the woman tore up the paper and threw it in the trash.

"The lady, what she did wasn't right," Farah said.

Farah described being exploited and threatened, as he worked in the household of another family. There, he was forced to cook and clean and tend to other children — and he was told to keep his mouth shut about his true origin, or the authorities would take him away.

"Often, I would just lock myself in the bathroom and cry, and nobody's there to help. So after I while, I just learned not to have that emotion," he said.

The celebrated runner says his unique abilities and luck are all that saved him from trafficking and forced servitude. When he was finally allowed to attend school, his talents quickly drew the attention of a teacher who connected with him — and who then helped Farah get placed into a foster home with a different Somali family.

Farah, who received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth in 2017, says he's speaking out now about what he went through to raise public awareness about other people who are caught in the same plight.

The BBC says it attempted to contact the woman who brought Farah into the U.K. for her side of the story, but she hasn't replied.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.