A young boy desperately turned over to a soldier at an airport during the American evacuation of Afghanistan was found and reunited with his relatives.
Sohail Ahmadi was just two months old when he went missing on August 19, when thousands of people rushed to leave Afghanistan when it fell victim to the Taliban.
His family, who had been evacuated to the United States, did not know where he was until Reuters published a story about him with his pictures in November and he was in Kabul.
A 29-year-old taxi driver named Hamid Safi found him at the airport and brought him home to be raised as his own.
After more than a month of negotiations and requests, and finally a brief detention by the Taliban police, Safi finally handed the child over to his grandfather and other relatives who are still in Kabul.
They said they would now reunite him with his parents and siblings in the United States.
Courtesy of Omar Haidiri / AFP via)
During the turbulent Afghan evacuation that summer, Mirza Ali Ahmadi, the father of the boy who worked as a security guard at the US embassy, and his wife Suraya feared that their son might be crushed in the crowd as they passed the airport gates approached on a flight to the US.
Ahmadi said in early November that that day, in desperation, he handed Sohail over the airport wall to a uniformed soldier who he believed was American, expecting he would soon walk the remaining 5 meters (15 feet) to the airport entrance create would reclaim him.
At that moment, Taliban troops were pushing the crowd back, and it would be another half hour before Ahmadi, his wife, and their four other children could enter.
But until then the baby was nowhere to be found.
Ahmadi said he was desperately looking for his son at the airport and was told by officials that he was likely removed from the country separately and could be reunited with them later.
The rest of the family were evacuated and eventually ended up on a Texas military base. For months they didn’t know where their son was.
Many other parents found themselves in a similar situation when they were separated from their children during the hasty evacuation efforts and the withdrawal of US forces from the country after a 20-year war.
In the absence of a US embassy in Afghanistan and no international organizations, Afghan refugees have difficulty getting answers about the timing or possibility of complex reunions like this one.
The U.S. Department of Defense, State Department and Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.
On the same day that Ahmadi and his family were separated from their baby, Safi had snuck through the Kabul airport gate after taking away his brother’s family, who were also to be evacuated.
Safi said he found Sohail alone and crying on the ground.
AFP via Getty Images)
After trying unsuccessfully to track down the baby’s parents, he decided to take the baby home to his wife and children.
Safi has three daughters of her own and said his mother’s greatest wish before she dies is that he have a son.
At that moment he decided, “I’m going to keep this baby. If his family is found, I’ll give it to them. If not, I’ll raise it myself.”
Safi said he took him to the doctor after he was found and quickly accepted him into his family. They called the baby Mohammad Abed and posted pictures of all the children together on his Facebook page.
After the Reuters story of the missing child came out, some of Safi’s neighbors – who had noticed his return from the airport with a baby months earlier – recognized the photos and posted comments on his whereabouts in a translated version of the article.
Ahmadi asked his relatives still living in Afghanistan, including his father-in-law Mohammad Qasem Razawi, 67, who lives in northeastern Badakhshan Province, to visit Safi and ask him to return Sohail to the family.
Razawi said he traveled to the capital for two days and two nights and brought gifts – including a slaughtered sheep, several pounds of walnuts and clothing – for Safi and his family.
Public matter of the US Central Command)
However, Safi refused to release Sohail and insisted that he and his family wanted to be evacuated from Afghanistan as well. Safi’s brother, who was evacuated to California, said Safi and his family had no pending applications to enter the United States.
The baby’s family sought help from the Red Cross, which has a stated mission to reconnect people separated by international crises, but said they received little information from the organization. A spokesman for the Red Cross said it did not comment on individual cases.
After Razawi felt he had no more options, he eventually contacted the local Taliban police to report a kidnapping.
Safi denied the allegations to the police, saying he was taking care of the baby and not kidnapping it.
The complaint was investigated and dismissed, and the local police commander helped reach an agreement that included an agreement signed by both parties with fingerprints.
Razawi said the baby’s family ultimately agreed to reimburse Safi around 100,000 Afghans ($ 950) for the expenses she cared for him for five months.
“The baby’s grandfather complained to us and we found Hamid, and based on the evidence we had, we recognized the baby,” said Hamid Malang, the chief area manager of the local police station.
“By mutual agreement, the baby will be handed over to his grandfather,” he said on Saturday.
In the presence of the police and with many tears, the baby was finally handed over to its relatives.
AFP via Getty Images)
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 rescuing the child from the airport, ”said Razawi.
The baby’s parents told Reuters they were overjoyed as they saw the reunion with their own eyes via video chat.
“It is celebrated, danced, sung,” said Razawi. “It really is like a wedding.”
Now Ahmadi, his wife and other children, who were able to leave the military base at the beginning of December and move to an apartment in Michigan, hope that Sohail will be transferred to the USA soon.
“We have to bring the baby back to his mother and father. It’s my only responsibility, ”said his grandfather. “My wish is that he return to you.”