An infant who was handed over desperately to a soldier across an airport wall in the chaos during the U.S. evacuation of Afghanistan has been found and reunited with his relatives in Kabul on Saturday.
The baby, Sohail Ahmadi, was just two months old when he disappeared on August 19, 2021, when thousands of people rushed to leave Afghanistan when it fell to the Taliban.
Following an exclusive Reuters story published in November with his photos, the baby was located in Kabul, where a 29-year-old taxi driver named Hamid Safi had found him at the airport and taken him home to raise him as his own.
After more than seven weeks of negotiations and prayers, and ultimately a brief detention by the Taliban police, Safi finally handed the child back to his jubilant grandfather and other relatives still in Kabul.
They said they would now seek to have him reunited with his parents and siblings, who were evacuated to the United States months ago.
Fear infant would be crushed in the crowd
During the tumultuous Afghan evacuation over the summer, Mirza Ali Ahmadi – the boy’s father who had worked as a security guard at the US Embassy – and his wife, Suraya, feared that their son would be crushed in the crowd as they approached the airport gate. route to a flight to the United States
Ahmadi told Reuters in early November that in his desperation that day, he handed Sohail over the airport wall to a uniformed soldier he thought was an American, and he fully expected that he would soon reach the remaining five meters to the entrance. to recapture him.
At that very moment, Taliban forces pushed the crowd back, and it would be another half hour before Ahmadi, his wife, and their four other children were able to enter.
But then the baby was nowhere to be found.
Ahmadi said he was desperately looking for his son inside the airport and was told by officials that he had probably been taken out of the country separately and could be reunited with them later.
The family ended up at a military base in Texas
The rest of the family was evacuated – and eventually ended up at a military base in Texas. For several months, they had no idea where the baby was.
The case highlights the situation of many parents who are separated from their children during the hasty evacuation efforts and the withdrawal of US forces from the country after a 20-year war.
Without any US embassy in Afghanistan and international organizations overloaded, Afghan refugees have had trouble getting answers to the timing or the possibility of complex reunions like this.
The U.S. Department of Defense, State Department and Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.
Baby alone, crying on the ground, says the driver
The same day that Ahmadi and his family were separated from their baby, Safi, the taxi driver, had slipped through the gates of Kabul airport after giving a ride to his brother’s family, who were also to evacuate.
Safi said he found Sohail alone and crying on the ground. After saying that he unsuccessfully tried to find the baby’s parents inside, he decided to take the infant home to his wife and children. Safi himself has three daughters and said his mother’s biggest wish before she died was that he should have a son.
At that moment, he decided, “I will keep this baby. If his family is found, I will give him to them. If not, I will raise him myself,” he told Reuters in an interview in late November.
Facebook photos provided clues
Safi told Reuters he took Sohail to the doctor to be checked and quickly incorporated the child into his family. They called the baby Mohammad Abed and posted pictures of all the kids together on his Facebook page.
After the Reuters story about the missing child came out, some of Safi’s neighbors – who had noticed his return from the airport months earlier with a baby – recognized the pictures and wrote comments about his whereabouts on a translated version of the article.
Ahmadi asked his relatives still in Afghanistan – including his father-in-law, Mohammad Qasem Razawi, 67, who lives in the northeastern province of Badakhshan – to seek out Safi and ask him to return Sohail to the family.
Razawi said he traveled two days and two nights to the capital with gifts – including a slaughtered sheep, several kilos of walnuts and clothes – for Safi and his family.
But Safi refused to release Sohail, insisting he also wanted to be evacuated from Afghanistan with his family. Safi’s brother, who was evacuated to California, said Safi and his family have no pending applications to enter the United States.
The baby’s family sought help from the Red Cross, which has a stated mission to help connect people separated by international crises, but said they received some information from the organization. A spokesman for the Red Cross said they were not commenting on individual cases.
Family contacted police
Eventually, after feeling they had run out of opportunities, Razawi contacted local Taliban police to report a kidnapping. Safi told Reuters he denied the allegations to police and said he took care of the baby, did not kidnap him.
The complaint was investigated and rejected, and the local police chief told Reuters that he helped arrange a settlement, which included an agreement signed with thumbprints by both sides.
Razawi said the baby’s family eventually agreed to compensate Safi about 100,000 Afghans ($ 1,200 Cdn) for expenses incurred to care for him for five months.
“The baby’s grandfather complained to us and … based on the evidence we had, we recognized the baby,” said Hamid Malang, the local police station chief area inspector. “With the agreement of both parties, the baby will be handed over to his grandfather,” he said Saturday.
In the presence of the police and during lots of tears, the baby was finally returned to his relatives.
Razawi said Safi and his family were devastated to lose Sohail. “Hamid and his wife cried, I cried too, but assured them that you are both young, Allah will give you a male child. Not one, but several. I thanked them both for saving the child from the airport,” Razawi said.
Parents watch son over video chat
The baby’s parents told Reuters they were overjoyed when they could see with their own eyes the reunion over video chat.
“There are festivities, dancing, singing,” Razawi said. “It’s like a wedding, actually.”
Now Ahmadi and his wife and other children, who in early December were able to move from the military base and resettle in an apartment in Michigan, hope Sohail will soon be brought to the United States.
“We have to get the child back to his mother and father. This is my sole responsibility,” his grandfather said. “My wish is that he should return to them.”
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