KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan.8 (Reuters) – A child desperately handed over to a soldier through an airport wall in the chaos of the US evacuation from Afghanistan was found and was reunited with relatives in Kabul on Saturday.
The baby, Sohail Ahmadi, was just two months old when he disappeared on August 19 when thousands of people rushed out of Afghanistan when he fell into the hands of 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 brought him home to raise as his own. read more
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After more than seven weeks of negotiations and pleading, and finally a brief detention by the Taliban police, Safi finally returned the boy to his jubilant grandfather and other relatives still in Kabul.
They said they would now seek him to reunite with his parents and siblings who were evacuated to the United States months ago.
During the tumultuous Afghan evacuation over the summer, Mirza Ali Ahmadi, the boy’s father who had worked as a security guard at the U.S. embassy, and his wife Suraya feared their son would be crushed in the crowd as they approached the gates. from the airport on the way to a flight to the United States.
Ahmadi told Reuters in early November that in desperation that day, he handed Sohail over the airport wall to a uniformed soldier who he believed to be an American, in the full hope that he would soon reach the remaining 5 meters (15 feet). ) until the entrance to claim it.
Just then, the Taliban forces pushed the crowd back and it would be another half hour before Ahmadi, his wife and their four other children could enter.
But by then, the baby was nowhere to be found.
Ahmadi said he desperately searched for his son inside the airport and was told by officials that they had probably taken him out of the country separately and that he could meet them later.
The rest of the family was evacuated and eventually ended up at a military base in Texas. For months they did not know where their son was.
The case highlights the plight of many parents separated from their children during the hasty evacuation effort and the withdrawal of US forces from the country after a 20-year war. read more
Without the US embassy in Afghanistan and overburdened international organizations, Afghan refugees have struggled to get answers about the timing, or the possibility, of complex reunifications like this.
The US Department of Defense, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.
ONLY AT THE AIRPORT
On the same day that Ahmadi and his family were separated from their baby, Safi slipped through the gates of the Kabul airport after taking her brother’s family, who also had to evacuate.
Safi said she found Sohail alone and crying on the ground. After he said he tried unsuccessfully to locate the baby’s parents inside, he decided to take him home to his wife and children. Safi has three daughters and said that her mother’s greatest wish before she died was for him to have a child.
At that point he decided: “I will keep this baby. If they find his family, I will give it to him. If not, I will raise him myself,” he told Reuters in an interview in late November.
Safi told Reuters she took him to the doctor for a checkup after he was found and quickly incorporated the boy into her family. They named the baby Mohammad Abed and posted photos of all the children together on their Facebook page.
After the Reuters story about the missing child came to light, some of Safi’s neighbors, who had noticed her return from the airport months earlier with a baby, recognized the photos and posted comments about her whereabouts in 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 find 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 pounds of nuts and clothing, for Safi and her family.
But Safi refused to release Sohail, insisting that 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 the help of the Red Cross, which has a stated mission to help reconnect people separated by international crises, but said they received little information from the organization. A spokesman for the Red Cross said it does not comment on individual cases.
Finally, after feeling they had run out of options, Razawi contacted the local Taliban police to report a kidnapping. Safi told Reuters he denied the allegations to police and said he was taking care of the baby, not abducting him.
The complaint was investigated and dismissed, and the local police commander told Reuters that he helped fix an agreement, which included an agreement signed with fingerprints by both parties. Razawi said the baby’s family eventually agreed to compensate Safi about 100,000 Afghans ($ 950) for the expenses she incurred to care 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 controller of the local police station. “With both sides in agreement, the baby will be handed over to his grandfather,” he said Saturday.
In the presence of the police, and amid many tears, the baby was finally returned to its relatives.
Razawi said Safi and her family were devastated to lose Sohail. “Hamid and his wife were crying, I cried too, but I assured them that they are both young, Allah will give them a male child. Not one, but several. I thanked them both for saving the child from the airport,” Razawi said. .
The baby’s parents told Reuters they were delighted that they were able to see the reunion with their own eyes via video chat.
“There are celebrations, dances, songs,” Razawi said. “It’s like a wedding in fact.”
Now Ahmadi, his wife and other children, who were able to move from the military base in early December and relocate to an apartment in Michigan, hope Sohail will soon be brought to the United States.
“We need to give the baby back to his mother and father. This is my only responsibility,” said his grandfather. “My wish is that you return to them.”
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Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York, Jonathan Landay in Washington and James Mackenzie in Kabul; Editing by Kieran Murray and Daniel Wallis
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