An infant boy who was desperately handed over to a U.S. soldier across an airport wall in the chaos during the U.S. evacuation of Afghanistan has been found and reunited with his relatives.
The baby, Sohail Ahmadi, was only two months old when he disappeared on August 19, when thousands of people rushed to leave Afghanistan when it fell to the Taliban.
Following a 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 taken him home to raise him as his own. After more than seven weeks of negotiations, Safi handed the child back to his jubilant grandfather and other relatives who were still in Kabul on Saturday.
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, Mirza Ali Ahmadi – the boy’s father who had worked as a security guard at the US Embassy – and his wife, Suraya, feared that their son would be crushed in the crowd as they approached the airport gate.
Mirza Ali Ahmadi said in early November that in his desperation that day, he handed Sohail the airport wall over to a uniformed soldier he thought was an American, and he fully expected that he would soon reach the remaining five meters (15 foot) to the entrance to recover him. At that moment, Taliban forces pushed the crowd back, and it would be another half hour before Ahmadi, his wife, and their four other children were able to enter. But then the baby was nowhere to be found.
Ahmadi said he was desperately looking for his son inside the airport and was told by officials that he had probably been taken out of the country separately and could be reunited with them later. The rest of the family was evacuated – and eventually ended up at a military base in Texas. For months, they had no idea where their son was.
Without any US embassy in Afghanistan and international organizations overloaded, Afghan refugees have had trouble getting answers to the timing or the possibility of complex reunions like this.
“We are working to reunite the family,” said a State Department official.
The same day that Ahmadi and his family were separated from their baby, Safi had slipped through the gates of Kabul airport after giving a ride to his brother’s family, who were also to evacuate. Safi said he found Sohail alone and crying on the ground. After saying that he unsuccessfully tried to find the baby’s parents inside, he decided to take the infant home to his wife and children.
Safi himself has three daughters and said his mother’s biggest wish before she died was that he should have a son. At that moment, he said he decided, “If his family is found, I will give him to them. If not, I will raise him myself.” They named the baby Mohammad Abed and posted pictures of all the children together on his Facebook page.
After the story of the missing child came to light, some of Safi’s neighbors – who had noticed his return from the airport months earlier with a baby – recognized the pictures.
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.
In the presence of the police and during lots of tears, the baby was finally returned to his relatives.
Razawi said Safi and his family were devastated to lose Sohail. “Hamid and his wife cried. I cried too, but assured them that you are both young, Allah will give you a boy child. Not one, but several,” he said. “I thanked them both for rescuing the child from the airport. . “
The baby’s parents said they were overjoyed as they could see with their own eyes the reunion over video chat. “There are festivities, dancing, singing,” Razawi said. “It’s like a wedding.”
Now Ahmadi and his wife and other children, who in early December were able to move from a military base and resettle in an apartment in Michigan, hope Sohail will soon be brought to the United States. “We must have the child back to his mother and father. This is my sole responsibility,” said his grandfather. “My wish is that he should return to them.”