Kabul airport baby found, returned to family

KABUL, Afghanistan – A baby desperately handed over to a soldier through an airport wall in the chaos of the US evacuation to Afghanistan was found and reunited with relatives in Kabul on Saturday.

The baby, Sohail Ahmadi, was only two months old when he went missing on August 19 as thousands of people rushed to leave Afghanistan as it fell into the hands of the Taliban.

Following an exclusive Reuters story published in November with his photos, the child was in Kabul where a 29-year-old taxi driver named Hamid Safi found him at the airport and took him home to raise him as his own.

After more than seven weeks of negotiations, pleas, and eventually a brief detention by Taliban police, Safi finally handed the baby over to his beaming grandfather and other relatives still in Kabul. They said they would now seek to reunite him with his parents and siblings, who were evacuated months earlier to the United States.

During the turbulent Afghan evacuation over the summer, Mirza Ali Ahmadi – the boy’s father who worked as a security guard at the US Embassy – and his wife Soraya feared that their son would be crushed in the crowd as they approached the airport gates on their way to a flight to the US.

Ahmadi told Reuters in early November, in his desperation that day, that he had handed Sohail off the airport wall to a soldier in uniform who he believed was an American, fully anticipating that he would soon reach the remaining 5 meters of the entrance to retrieve him.

Just at that moment, the Taliban forces pushed the crowd back and it would take another half hour before Ahmadi, his wife and their four other children could enter. But by that time the child was nowhere to be found.

Ahmadi said he searched desperately for his son at the airport, and officials told him he might have been taken abroad separately and could be reunited with them later.

The rest of the family was evacuated – and they eventually ended up at a military base in Texas. For months, they had no idea where their son was.

The case highlights the plight of the many parents separated from their children during the rushed evacuation efforts and the withdrawal of US forces from the country after a 20-year war.

With no US embassy in Afghanistan and international organizations overstretched, Afghan refugees have struggled to obtain answers about the timing or likelihood of such a complex reunification.

The US Department of Defense, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.

Alone at the airport

On the same day Ahmadi and his family separated from their child, Safi slipped through the gates of Kabul airport after he went on a flight for his brother’s family who were about to be evacuated.

Safi said he found Sohail alone and was crying on the floor. After saying he had tried unsuccessfully to locate the baby’s parents inside, he decided to take the infant home to his wife and children.

Safi has three daughters, and said his mother’s biggest wish before her death was to have a son.

At that moment, he told Reuters in an interview in late November, “I will keep this child. If his family is found, I will give it to them. If he is not found, I will raise him myself.”

Safi told Reuters he took him to the doctor to check him after he was found and quickly integrated the child into his family. They called the child, Mohamed Abed, and posted pictures of all the children together on his Facebook page.

After the Reuters story about the missing child was published, some of Safi’s neighbors – who had noticed him returning from the airport months earlier with a baby – learned of the photos and posted comments about his whereabouts in a translated version of the article.

Ahmadi asked his relatives still in Afghanistan, including his father-in-law, Muhammad Qasim Razawi, 67, who lives in the northeastern province of Badakhshan, to search for Safi and ask him to return Sohail to the family.

Al-Razzawi said he traveled two days and two nights to the capital with gifts—including a slaughtered sheep, several pounds of nuts, and clothing—for Safi and his family. But Safi refused to release Sohail, insisting that he also wants to be evacuated from Afghanistan with his family.

Safi’s brother, who was evacuated to California, said Safi and his family had no pending applications to enter the United States.

The child’s family asked for help from the Red Cross, which has a stated mission to help restore contact between people separated by international crises, but said they had received little information from the organization. A spokesperson for the Red Cross said it does not comment on individual cases.

Finally, feeling they ran out of options, Al-Razzawi called the local Taliban police to report the kidnapping.

Safi told Reuters he denied the allegations to the police and said he was looking after the child, not abducting him. The complaint was investigated and dismissed, and the local police chief told Reuters he helped arrange a settlement that included an agreement signed with fingerprints from both sides.

Al-Razzawi said that the boy’s family eventually agreed to net compensation of around 100,000 Afghanis (US$950) for the expenses he incurred to care for him for five months.

“The child’s grandfather complained to us and we found Hamid and based on the evidence we had, we recognized the child,” said Hamid Malang, the chief superintendent of the local police station.

“After the two sides agree, the child will be handed over to his grandfather,” he said on Saturday.

In the presence of the police, and amidst many tears, the child was finally returned to his relatives. Al-Razzawi said that Safi and his family lost Sohail.

“Hamed and his wife were crying, I cried too, but I reassured them that you are young, and God will give you a male child. Not one, but several. I thanked both of them for saving the child from the airport,” Al-Razzawi said. .

The girl’s parents told Reuters they were thrilled to be able to see the reunion with their own eyes via a video chat.

“There are celebrations, dancing and singing,” Al-Razzawi said. “It’s really like a wedding.”

Now Ahmadi, his wife and other children, who in early December managed to leave the military base and resettle in an apartment in Michigan, hope that Sohail will soon be transferred to the United States.

“We need to return the child to his mother and father,” his grandfather said. “This is my only responsibility.” “I wish he would come back to them.”

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