KABUL, Afghanistan – A young boy desperately handed over to a soldier over an airport wall in the chaos of the American evacuation of Afghanistan was found and reunited with his relatives in Kabul on Saturday.
The baby, Sohail Ahmadi, was only two months old when it went missing on August 19, when thousands of people rushed to leave Afghanistan when it fell to the Taliban.
After a exclusive Reuters story With his pictures released in November, the baby was in Kabul, where a 29-year-old taxi driver named Hamid Safi found him at the airport and took him home to raise as his own.
After more than seven weeks of negotiations and requests, and finally a brief detention by the Taliban police, Safi finally handed the child over to his jubilant grandfather and other relatives who are still in Kabul.
They said they would now try to match him with his parents and siblings who were evacuated to the US months ago.
During the turbulent Afghan evacuation that summer, Mirza Ali Ahmadi – the boy’s father, who had worked as a security guard at the US embassy – and his wife Suraya feared their son might be crushed in the crowd as they walked the airport gates approached a flight to the US.
Desperate Ahmadi told Reuters in early November that he was handing Sohail over the airport wall to a uniformed soldier who he believed was American, with the expectation that he would soon make it the remaining 4.5 meters to the entrance would manage to reclaim it.
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.
The case underscores the plight of many parents who were separated from their children during the hasty evacuation and withdrawal of US forces from the country after a 20-year war.
In the absence of a US embassy in Afghanistan and overwhelmed by international organizations, Afghan refugees find it difficult to get answers about the timing or possibility of complex reunions like this one.
“We are working to reunite the family,” said a State Department official.
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However, the timing is still unknown, said a second US official with knowledge of the situation, as there are currently no regular evacuation flights leaving the country. The US government is in talks with the Qataris as well as with parties in Afghanistan over the case, said the second official.
Alone at the airport
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. After trying unsuccessfully to track down the baby’s parents, he took 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 keeping this baby. When his family is found, I will give him to them. If not, I’ll raise it myself, ”he said in an interview with Reuters at the end of November.
Safi told Reuters that once he was found, he took him to the doctor for a check-up and quickly took the child 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 bringing gifts – including a slaughtered sheep, several pounds of walnuts and clothing – for Safi and his family.
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 told Reuters that he denied allegations to police, saying he was looking after the baby and not kidnapping her.
The complaint was investigated and dismissed, and the local police commander told Reuters that he helped reach an agreement that included an agreement signed by both sides with thumbprints. Razawi said the baby’s family eventually 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.
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.
“We have to bring the baby back to his mother and father. That’s my only responsibility, ”he said.
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 and his wife and other children, who were able to leave the military base and relocate to an apartment in Michigan in early December, are still finding foothold and are focused on their son’s return.
“I was so sad and always cried for my baby,” said his mother, Suraya. “Now I hope that he arrives here safe and sound. Last night I didn’t sleep because of happiness. “