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Baby lost in airlift chaos in Afghanistan found, returned to family after long ordeal
KABUL: A baby boy handed over to a soldier across an airport wall in the chaos of the US evacuation from Afghanistan in desperation was found and reunited with his loved ones in Kabul on Saturday.
The baby, Sohail Ahmadi, was only two months old when he went missing on August 19 as thousands rushed to leave Afghanistan as it fell to the Taliban.
Following an exclusive Reuters article published in November with his photos, 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 it as his own.
After more than seven weeks of negotiations and advocacy, and ultimately a brief detention by Taliban police, Safi finally returned the child to his jubilant 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 ago to the United States.
During the tumultuous evacuation from Afghanistan over the summer, Mirza Ali Ahmadi – the father of the boy who had worked as a security guard at the United States Embassy – and his wife Suraya feared their son were crushed in the crowd as they approached the airport gates on their way to a flight to the United States.
Ahmadi told Reuters in early November in his despair that day he handed Sohail on the wall at the airport to a uniformed soldier he believed to be an American, fully expecting him to arrive soon. to the remaining 5 meters (15 feet) until the entrance to recover it.
Just then the Taliban forces pushed back the crowd and it will be another half hour before Ahmadi, his wife and their four other children can enter. But at that time, the baby was nowhere to be found.
Ahmadi said he was desperately looking for his son inside the airport and officials told him he was likely taken out of the country separately and could be reunited with them later.
The rest of the family were evacuated and 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 many parents separated from their children during the rushed evacuation effort and the withdrawal of US forces from the country after a 20-year war.
With no U.S. embassy in Afghanistan and overwhelmed international organizations, Afghan refugees have struggled to get answers on the timeline or the possibility of complex reunifications like this one.
The US Department of Defense, State Department and Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.
On the same day, Ahmadi and his family were separated from their baby, Safi had slipped through the doors of Kabul airport after leading his brother’s family who also had to evacuate.
Safi said he found Sohail alone and crying on the floor. After he said he tried unsuccessfully to locate the baby’s parents inside, he decided to bring the baby home with his wife and children.
Safi has three daughters of his own and said that his mother’s biggest wish before her death was for him to have a son. At that point, he decided, “I’m keeping this baby. If his family is found, I’ll give it to them. Otherwise, I’ll raise it myself, ”he told Reuters in an interview at the end of November.
Safi told Reuters he took him to the doctor for an exam after he was found and quickly integrated the child into his family.
They named baby Mohammad Abed and posted pictures of all the children together on his Facebook page.
After the Reuters article on the missing child appeared, some of Safi’s neighbors – who had noticed his return from the airport months earlier with a baby – recognized the photos and posted comments on his plight on a translated version of the article.
Ahmadi asked his relatives still in Afghanistan, including his stepfather Mohammad Qasem Razawi, 67, who lives in Badakhshan province (northeast), to search for 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 clothes – for Safi and his 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 had no pending entry into the United States.
The baby’s family have asked for help from 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 spokesperson for the Red Cross said it does not comment on individual cases. Finally, after feeling that they had no more options, Razawi contacted the local Taliban police to report a kidnapping.
Safi told Reuters he denied the allegations to police and said he was looking after the baby, not abducting it.
The complaint was investigated and dismissed, and the local police commander told Reuters he helped organize a settlement, which included an agreement signed with fingerprints by both sides.
Razawi said the baby’s family eventually agreed to compensate Safi about 100,000 Afghans ($ 950) for expenses 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 post. local police.
“With the agreement of both parties, the baby will be returned to his grandfather,” he said on Saturday. In the presence of the police, and amidst many tears, the baby was finally returned to his loved ones.
Razawi said Safi and her family were devastated to lose Sohail.
“Hamid and his wife were crying, 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 saving the child from the airport, ”said Razawi.
The baby’s parents told Reuters they were delighted to have been able to see the reunion with their own eyes via video chat. “There are celebrations, dancing, singing,” Razawi said. “It’s like a wedding indeed.”
Now Ahmadi, his wife and other children, who were able to leave the military base in early December and relocate to an apartment in Michigan, are hopeful that Sohail will be taken to the United States soon.
“We have to give the baby back to its mother and father. It’s my sole responsibility, ”said his grandfather. “My wish is that he comes back to them.