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Baby lost in chaos of Afghanistan airlift found, returned to family after long ordeal


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KABUL — 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 relatives in Kabul on Saturday.

The baby, Sohail Ahmadi, was just two months old when he

went missing on Aug. 19 as thousands of people rushed to leave

Afghanistan as it fell to the Taliban.

Following an exclusive Reuters story https://www.reuters.com/world/exclusive-baby-handed-us-soldiers-chaos-afghanistan-airlift-still-missing-2021-11-05

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published in November with his pictures, the baby was located

in Kabul where a 29-year-old taxi driver named Hamid Safi had

found him in the airport and took him home to raise as his own.

After more than seven weeks of negotiations and pleas, and

ultimately a brief detention by Taliban police, Safi finally

handed the child back to his jubilant grandfather and other

relatives still in Kabul.

They said they would now seek to have him reunited with his

parents and siblings who were evacuated months ago to the United

States.

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 get crushed in the crowd as they neared the airport gates

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en route to a 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 make it the remaining 5 meters (15 feet) to the

entrance to reclaim him.

Just at that 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 by then the baby was nowhere to be found.

Ahmadi said he searched desperately for his son inside the

airport and was told by officials that he had likely been taken

out of the country separately and could be reunited with them

later.

The rest of the family was evacuated – eventually ending up

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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 https://www.reuters.com/world/when-are-my-parents-coming-1300-afghan-children-evacuated-us-limbo-2021-11-10

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 answers on the timing, or possibility, of complex

reunifications like this one.

The U.S. Department of Defense, the State Department and the

Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for

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comment on Saturday.

ALONE AT THE AIRPORT

On the same day Ahmadi and his family were separated from

their baby, Safi had slipped through the Kabul airport gates

after giving a ride to his brother’s family who were also set to

evacuate.

Safi said he found Sohail alone and crying on the ground.

After he said he unsuccessfully tried to locate the baby’s

parents inside, he decided to take the infant home to his wife

and children. Safi has three daughters of his own and said his

mother’s greatest wish before she died was for him to have a

son.

In that moment he decided: “I am keeping this baby. If his

family is found, I will give him to them. If not, I will raise

him myself,” he told Reuters in an interview in late November.

Safi told Reuters that he took him to the doctor for a

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check-up after he was found and quickly incorporated 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 about the missing child came out,

some of Safi’s neighbors – who had noticed his return from the

airport months earlier with a baby – recognized the photos and

posted comments about his whereabouts on 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 seek out Safi and ask

him to return Sohail to the family.

Razawi said he traveled two days and two nights to the

capital bearing gifts – including a slaughtered sheep, several

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pounds of walnuts and clothing – for Safi and his family.

But Safi refused to release Sohail, insisting 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 for U.S. entry.

The baby’s family sought 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 they had run 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

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was caring for the baby, not kidnapping him.

The complaint was investigated and dismissed and the local

police commander told Reuters he helped arrange a settlement,

which included an agreement signed with thumbprints by both

sides. Razawi said the baby’s family in the end agreed to

compensate Safi around 100,000 Afghani ($950) for 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

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baby was finally returned to his relatives.

Razawi 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,” Razawi said.

The baby’s parents told Reuters they were overjoyed as they

were able to see with their own eyes the reunion over video

chat.

“There are celebrations, dance, singing,” said Razawi. “It

is 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 only responsibility,” his grandfather said. “My wish is

that he should return to them.”

(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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