Infant lost amid the chaos of Afghanistan evacuation found and reunited with relatives

Hamid Safi, a 29-year-old taxi driver who found baby Sohail Ahmadi in the airport, cries as he hands Sohail over to his grandfather. (Photo: Reuters via BBC)

An infant boy handed in desperation to a soldier across an airport wall in the chaos of the American evacuation of Afghanistan has been found and was reunited with his relative in Kabul on Saturday.

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

An exclusive Reuters story published in November with his pictures, the baby was located in Kabul. A 29-year-old taxi driver named Hamid Safi found him in the airport and took him to raise as his own.

After more than seven weeks of negotiations and pleas and brief detention by Taliban police, Safi finally handed the child back to his jubilant grandfather and other relatives in Kabul.

They said they would now seek to reunite with his parents and siblings, who were evacuated months ago to the United States.

During the riotous Afghan evacuation over the summer, Mirza Ali Ahmadi -the boy's father who was working at the U.S. Embassy as a security guard and his wife Suraya feared their son would get crushed in the crowd as they neared the airport gates en route to flight to the United States.

Ahmadi told Reuters in early November in his desperation that day; he handed Sohail over the airport wall to a uniformed soldier who he believed to be an American, fully expecting he would soon be making it in the remaining 5 meters to the entrance to reclaim him.

Just right at the moment, Taliban forces pushed the crowd back, and it would be another half an hour before Ahmadi, his wife, and their four other children were able to get inside, but then the baby was nowhere to be found at all.

Ahmadi said he searched his son inside the airport and told officials that he had likely been taken out of the country and could be reunited with them later.

The rest of the family was evacuated, eventually ending up at a military base in Texas, U.S. They had no clue for months where their son was.

The case highlights the plight of many parents separated from their children during the hasty evacuation effort and withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country after a 20-year war.

With no U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan and international organizations overstretched, Afghan refugees have had trouble getting the timing or possibility of complex reunifications like this case.

The U.S Department of Defense, the state department, and the Department of Homeland security did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.

The baby's family sought help from the Red Cross, which has a stated mission to help reconnect people separated by International Crises, said they received little information from the organization. A spokesperson for the Red Cross said it does not comment on individual cases.

After running out of options, Razawi contacted the local Taliban police to report a kidnapping. Safi told Reuters he denied the allegations to the police and said he cared for the baby, not kidnapping him.

The complaint was investigated and dismissed, and the local commander told Reuters he helped arrange a settlement, which included an agreement signed with thumbprints by both sides. Razavi said the baby's family, in the end, agreed to compensate Safi around 100,000 Afghani ($950) for the expenses incurred looking after him for five months.

"The grandfather of the baby complained to us and we found Hamid and based on the evidence we had, we recognized the baby," said Hamid Malang, the chief area controller of the local police station. "With both sides in agreement, the baby will be handed over to his grandfather," he said on Saturday.

In the presence of the police, and amid lots of tears, the baby was finally returned to his relatives.

Razavi said Safi and his family were devastated to lose Sohail. "Hamid and his wife were crying, I cried too but assured them that you both are young, Allah will give you male child. Not one, but several. I thanked both of them for saving the child from the airport," Razavi said.

The baby's parents told Reuters they were delighted as they could see the reunion over video chat with their own eyes.

"There are celebrations, dance, singing," said Razavi. "It was just like a wedding indeed."

Now Ahmadi and his wife and other children who in early December were able to move off the military base and resettle in an apartment in Michigan hope Sohail will soon be brought to the United States.

"We need to get the baby back to his mother and father. This is my oldy responsibility," his grandfather said. "My wish is that he should return to them."

Publish : 2022-01-09 17:02:00

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