It was a decision in a split second. Mirza Ali Ahmadi and his wife Suraya found themselves and their five children on August 19 in a chaotic crowd outside the gates of Kabul airport in Afghanistan when a U.S. soldier from over the high fence asked if they needed help.
Fearing that their two-month-old baby Sohail would be crushed in the melee, they handed him to the soldier, thinking they would soon reach the entrance, which was only about 16 feet (5 meters) away.
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But at that moment, Mirza Ali said, the Taliban – which had quickly taken over the country when US troops withdrew – began pushing back hundreds of hopeful evacuees. It took the rest of the family more than half an hour to get to the other side of the airport fence.
Once inside, Sohail was nowhere to be found.
Mirza Ali, who said he worked as a security guard at the U.S. Embassy for 10 years, began desperately asking all the officials he encountered about his baby’s whereabouts. He said a military commander told him the airport was too dangerous for a baby and that he might have been taken to a special area for children. But when they got there, it was empty.
“He walked with me around the airport to search everywhere,” Mirza Ali said in an interview through a translator. He said he never got the commander’s name as he did not speak English and relied on Afghan colleagues from the embassy to help communicate. Three days passed.
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“I talked to maybe more than 20 people,” he said. “Every officer – military or civilian – I encountered I asked about my baby.”
He said one of the civilian officials he spoke to told him that Sohail may have been evacuated by himself. “They said ‘we do not have the resources to keep the child here’.”
Mirza Ali, 35, Suraya, 32, and their other children, aged 17, 9, 6 and 3, were put on an evacuation flight to Qatar and then to Germany, eventually landing in the United States. The family is now in Fort Bliss, Texas, along with other Afghan refugees waiting to be resettled somewhere in the United States. They have no relatives here.
Mirza Ali said he saw other families handing over their babies over the Kabul airport fence to soldiers at the same time. A video clip of a small baby in diaper hoisted by his arm over shaving wire went viral on social media. She was later reunited with her parents.
Ever since his baby disappeared, dates have been a blur, Mirza Ali said. Every person he encounters – aid workers, US officials – he tells them about Sohail. “Everyone promises they will do their best, but they are just promises,” he said.
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An Afghan refugee support group created a “Missing Baby” sign with Sohail’s picture on it and circulated it among their network in hopes that someone would recognize him.
A U.S. official familiar with the situation said the case had been flagged for all agencies involved, including U.S. bases and overseas locations. The child was last seen being handed over to a U.S. soldier during the chaos at Kabul airport, but “unfortunately no one can find the child,” the official said.
A spokesman for the Department of Defense and a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees resettlement efforts, referred questions about the case to the State Department since the separation took place abroad. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.
Suraya, who also spoke through a translator, said she cries most of the time and that her other children are desperate.
“All I do is think of my child,” Suraya said. “Everyone who calls me, my mother, my father, my sister, they all comfort me and say ‘don’t worry, God is kind, your son will be found.’