As a child refugee from Somaliland, I know Sir Mo’s agony all too well

Commentary/Opinion News

By Nimco Ali

Sir Mo Farah and I have a lot in common. We were both born in Somaliland. And we both lost half of our family members during The Isaaq genocide.

But unlike Mo, who has just revealed that his real name is Hussein, I was holding my mum’s hand when I landed safely back in the UK. Sadly this is not the story for Sir Mo. He has told the BBC that he was trafficked into the UK on the passport of someone else, something I know happened to countless young Somalis in the late 80s and the early 90s.

Many of those trafficked ended up with family members who were waiting for them here. But others like Mo ended up being taken advantage of. One thing I have learnt as a child refugee and FGM survivor is that there are always evil people. And they know the legal loopholes to help those trying to get away with human rights violations. When parents would have done anything to get their kids to safety, traffickers saw an opportunity to make money.

I don’t often talk about the struggles I saw coming back to the UK as a refugee. Like Mo, some of the people who came back with us on our flight were not who they said they were. Growing up I saw countless stories like Mo’s. As one of the only people to speak Somali and English in my primary school, I remember having to translate for traumatised children.

Many of them were living under fake names they did not answer to because they did not understand what was going on. Sadly some were staying with people who were not as loving as they thought they should be.

In coming to the UK with a different identity it meant they lost not just who they were, but who their children would be. The mental gymnastics you have to do to work out who is related to who at a family event would shock you, but it’s nothing new to me. I do, though, see the confusion on the faces of kids who have no idea what their parents went through to get here.

The writer Nimko Ali OBE, alternatively spelled Nimco, is a British social activist of Somali heritage. She is the co-founder and CEO of The Five Foundation, a global partnership to end female genital mutilation

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