Sir Mo Farah, one of Britain’s most successful Olympians, condemned Donald Trump’s decision to ban US arrivals from a series of predominantly Muslim countries in simple terms.
The double 5,000m and 10,000m Olympic champion, who was born in Somalia — one of the seven countries targeted in the president’s crackdown — branded the decision “ignorant and prejudiced”.
He added that he would have to tell his children that he might not be able to come home to the US from his training camp in Ethiopia, where he was scheduled to stay for another two weeks before competing for the UK in Britain.
Farah spoke out after Trump’s executive order halted the entire US refugee programme and also instituted a 90-day travel ban for nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The ban has caused furore among leading British Muslims, who could be affected by the border clampdown. Sporting figures, politicians and artists have all united to condemn the ban.
Farah was speaking from Ethiopia, where he is training at high altitude in preparation for a race in Birmingham next month. He planned to go back to Ethiopia afterwards for four weeks before returning to the family home he shares with his wife and four children in Portland, Oregon, in March. However, he now fears he will not be able to travel back to Portland because of the executive order, which also applies to those who hold dual nationality with one of the listed countries.
In the riposte to Trump, Farah said: “I am a British citizen who has lived in America for the past six years – working hard, contributing to society, paying my taxes and bringing up our four children in the place they now call home. Now, me and many others like me are being told that we may not be welcome. It’s deeply troubling that I will have to tell my children that Daddy might not be able to come home – to explain why the president has introduced a policy that comes from a place of ignorance and prejudice.
“I was welcomed into Britain from Somalia at eight years old and given the chance to succeed and realise my dreams. I have been proud to represent my country, win medals for the British people and receive the greatest honour of a knighthood. My story is an example of what can happen when you follow polices of compassion and understanding, not hate and isolation.”
He also contrasted his treatment from the Queen, who recently gave him a knighthood, with that of Trump, saying: “On 1 January this year, Her Majesty the Queen made me a knight of the realm. On 27 January, President Donald Trump seems to have made me an alien.”
Farah is a British citizen with a British passport who does not have dual nationality or hold a Somalian passport. However, he was born in Somalia. His camp are seeking to clarify the situation with the US authorities.
Alan Watkinson, the PE teacher who discovered Farah as a schoolboy, said he was not surprised by him speaking out against Trump’s decision. “Mo has strong values,” he told the Guardian. “If he thinks something isn’t fair he won’t sit on the fence. He is always been passionate about injustice and he has always had that side to him.”
Watkinson, who was also the best man at Farah’s wedding, urged Theresa May to intervene directly to make sure that Farah would be able to return to the US. “Mo has lived in the US for many years, had children there, and pays his taxes there. And while Mo is the most high-profile case, the whole policy is complete crackers and hopefully his case will highlight how ridiculous this blanket ban against Muslims is.”
The British–Iranian comedian Patrick Monahan had plans to take his tour to the United States this year but now says his Iranian heritage could make that impossible.
Monahan, 40, came to Britain in the early 1980s to escape the Iran-Iraq war. His family lived on the border of the two Middle Eastern countries in the south-western city of Ahvaz in Iran. But when the conflict started, his parents were forced to flee with their three children, crossing into Saudi Arabia, Europe and then into the UK before settling in Teesside.
He said: “This is taking us right back into the dark ages. I find it ridiculous that because of my heritage I am now considering public enemy number one in the states.
“America is made up of immigrants and to shut the doors to others is just ludicrous. I have never been to the states before but I was going this year and taking my show out there. It doesn’t look like that can happen now.”
Monahan’s father is an Irish national, who had travelled to the Middle East to work on oil rigs.
He added: “I am used to being asked questions at airports because they get very confused with my Irish passport and my Iranian birth. I always get asked if I’ve been to Syria. But I get they have a job to do — I have never been refused entry before though.
“Comedy is a way of breaking barriers and banning us from entering a country is not going to help with culturally diversity or help people to understand what we are all about. Stopping people from meeting each other creates fear.”
The Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi, who was born in Baghdad, said he felt “demeaned and discriminated against” by Trump’s border edict. Lawyers have told the politician that he could be barred from the US under the ban.
Speaking on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, he said: “I don’t think I have felt discriminated since little school when the kids were very cruel, as a young boy coming from Iraq of Kurdish origin. For the first time in my life last night I felt discriminated against. It’s demeaning, it’s sad.”
The Lord of the Rings actor Andy Serkis also condemned the ban. Serkis, whose father is from Iraq, described the order which could affect the free movement of some of his relatives as “brutal” and “catastrophic”.
He said: “Within a week of assuming a highly pivotal role in balancing the future of our planet, one that demands an incredibly virtuous leader and subtle negotiator, in a world that needs real understanding, a great mind, compassion and empathy, we find ourselves instead with a childish bully at the helm who has placed catastrophic, heinous and brutal executive orders into place, one presumes to show off how powerful he is, most recently the decision to block refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries including Iraq.
“It is the sign of a civilised country to open wide its arms to those who have suffered the unimaginable terror, psychological trauma and desperate heartbreak of war, those who seek help and comfort.
“Many of my own Iraqi relatives have indeed sought refuge abroad in countries such as New Zealand, Canada, Europe and the USA, gradually rebuilding their lives in a safe and nurturing environment. In line with his nationalistic desire to rid his country of Muslims, foreigners, others, with this blatantly illegal anti-human rights action, it is clear that that he cares not for any human being beyond his own walls.”
Serkis also criticised Theresa May, who initially refused to criticise Trump when pressed by reporters on the ban, saying it was up to America to devise its own policy. “I’m deeply ashamed that our prime minister is happy to even sit down with a man who fights fire with fire, wants to make torture a ‘normal’ activity, and who is deluded about climate change,” he said. “Very great shame on you.”