On April 14 2022, the British government announced that it was going to be redefining its immigration policy, in the wake of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, and rising domestic tensions surrounding migration into the country from Brexit voters.
The policy will see that those seeking asylum in the United Kingdom are relocated to the Republic of Rwanda, not only causing a greater deal of uncertainty for vulnerable individuals likely escaping countries ravaged by war and political hostility, but also deferring what the British government deems to be a sizeable problem onto a nation still at a stage of relative infancy, and one which may not have the same state of social and economic stability to sufficiently house refugees.
Naturally, the policy has received a great deal of national and political criticism, with opponents questioning the moral and ethical validity of the government’s decision to simply make migration someone else’s problem.
Furthermore, it marks a significant backwards step in the social momentum that the United Kingdom has been able to generate in recent years, with the celebration of the LGBTQ+ community in the form of Pride Month becoming more firmly established in the country’s social calendar, and the mass social and institutional support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd on May 25 2020.
It is within this turbulent socio-political context that four-time Olympic gold medallist Sir Mo Farah announced the story of his immigration to the United Kingdom in 1991 from modern-day Somaliland, his experiences of working as a child labourer in his early years in the country, and his acquisition of full British citizenship in the year 2000.
This article will consider the significance of Farah’s story, assessing just how this incredible story of one of Britain’s most successful and beloved sportspeople serves to complicate the UK government’s immigration policy, and predicting what this could mean for the future of the Conservative government’s stance on migration and asylum within the county’s borders.
The Real Mo Farah
The six-time World Champion over both 5,000m and 10,000m had previously recounted his story differently, claiming that he had left Somalia aged eight to live with his father, following a decision made by both of his parents to send three of their six children to London for the chance of a better life.
However, in a documentary broadcast on the BBC on July 6 2020 entitled The Real Mo Farah, the four-time Olympic champion revealed that he was in fact trafficked to the United Kingdom by a stranger, escaping civil war in Somalia that had claimed his father’s life when the athlete was four.
His arrival into the United Kingdom was marred by a great deal of uncertainty and misfortune, with Farah being forced to live with a married British couple that treated him poorly in these formative years. It was Farah’s school PE teacher, Alan Watkinson, that rescued him from this difficult living situation, helping him to apply for British citizenship under his assumed name, Mohammad Farah.
Farah’s given name, Hussein Abdi Kahin, was abandoned when he arrived in the United Kingdom, with the athlete assuming the name of another Somalian refugee seeking asylum in Great Britain. It was this name that Farah used to create a fake passport, further consolidating his British citizenship, and in doing so, further distancing himself from his true Somali heritage.
In the documentary, Farah recounts his arrival into the United Kingdom and his living situation as being an incredibly difficult and punishing period, remembering that he “had all the contact details for my relatives and once we got to her house, the lady took it off me and right in front of me ripped them up and put it in the bin, and at that moment I knew I was in trouble”.
Whether Farah liked it or not, he was being made to completely detach himself from his family and the story that had lead to his migration.
What does this mean for the British Government’s immigration policy?
Naturally, Farah’s story puts a real spanner in the works of the British government’s immigration policy. Aside from the athletic success Farah has brought to the United Kingdom with repeated triumphs on the national and international stage that would undoubtedly never have taken place if this particular policy was routine in British politics at the time of his migration, the British public have been able to observe first hand how this singularly emotive and delicate subject has affected one of the nation’s most beloved and renowned sporting personalities.
It offers a critically human perspective in a political narrative that appears to consider the logistical difficulties that may arise with our continued support for asylum seekers as more significant than the very real consequences for the families and the individuals that this policy explicitly attacks.
Furthermore, Farah’s story demonstrates the clear benefit of incorporating migrants seeking asylum into the British socio-political system; his domination of the 5,000m and 10,000m throughout the 2010s brought a great deal of pride to the United Kingdom in an area where we have historically had very little success.
Farah’s success, however, should not be taken as the sole justification for scrapping the government’s proposed immigration policy. Of course, Farah’s story is ultimately one which demonstrates his tenacity and courage in becoming one of our country’s most successful athletes, but it should not mean that we are only accommodating to those that display a particular aptitude in any social, sporting, or professional setting.
The UK government must rethink its policy on immigration, rather than essentially deferring this alleged ‘problem’ to a nation that will likely suffer the very real consequences of over-population and limited housing that Downing Street very clearly fear. Farah’s story, though, must be celebrated, as one that will truly inspire migrant individuals and families in the United Kingdom, and one that will hopefully encourage a reversal of this truly exclusionary and vacuous proposal.
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