A baby was reunited with his relatives in Kabul on Saturday, after he was found missing when his father handed him to a soldier through the airport fence amid the chaos of the American evacuation from Afghanistan.
Baby Sohail Ahmadi was only two months old when he was separated from the family on August 19 when thousands flocked to try to leave Afghanistan after it fell to the Taliban.
The taxi driver delivers Sohail to his grandfather
Following a report published by “Reuters” last November with pictures of the missing child, he was located in Kabul, where he was found by a taxi driver named Hamed Safi (29 years old) at the airport and took him to his home to raise him.
After more than seven weeks of negotiations and pleas, and even the brief arrest of Safi by the Taliban, the taxi driver finally agreed to return the child to his grandfather and relatives still in Kabul, to great joy.
Sohail’s relatives carry him while leaving the taxi driver’s house
The boy’s parents said they would now work for him to be reunited with his parents and siblings who were evacuated months ago to the United States.
During the turmoil that accompanied the evacuation from Afghanistan over the summer, Mirza Ali Ahmadi, the boy’s father who worked as a security guard at the US Embassy, and his wife, Soraya, feared that their son would be crushed in the crowds as they approached the airport gates on their way to board a flight to the United States.
Sohail at the taxi driver’s house
Out of desperation that day, Mirza Ali Ahmadi told Reuters in early November that he had handed Sohail over the airport fence to a US soldier in what he believed and was fully expecting to be able to cross the remaining five meters to the gate to retrieve him.
At that moment, Taliban forces pushed the crowd back for another half hour before Ahmadi, his wife and their four other children could enter. But they found no trace of the infant.
Sohail’s relatives carry him while leaving the taxi driver’s house
Ahmadi said he searched desperately for his son at the airport and officials suggested he had already been taken out of the country on a separate flight, and if not, he might be reunited with the family later.
The rest of the family was evacuated and eventually ended up at a Texas military base. Months passed without the family knowing about their son’s fate.
Hamid Safi and his wife with the child Sohail
This case highlights the plight of many parents separated from their children during the chaos of the emergency evacuation process and the withdrawal of US forces from the country after a 20-year war.
Due to the absence of a US embassy in Afghanistan and the high pressure on international organizations, Afghan refugees faced difficulty in obtaining answers to their questions about the timing or possibility of reunification with their family members.
The taxi driver’s wife cries while feeding the baby Sohail
Alone at the airport
On the same day that Ahmadi and his family were separated from the baby, driver Safi slipped through the gates of Kabul Airport after dropping off his brother’s family, which was also scheduled to be evacuated.
Safi said he found Sohail crying alone on the floor. After he failed in trying to find the child’s parents inside the airport, he decided to take him back to the house where he lives with his wife and children. Safi has three daughters, and he said that his mother’s greatest wish before her death was to have a son.
Sohail playing with the daughters of the taxi driver at his house
“At that moment, I decided to keep this baby,” Safi told Reuters in an interview in late November. And if his family appears, I will give it to her. And if she doesn’t show up, I’ll raise him.”
Safi told Reuters he took the child to a doctor to examine him after he was found, and soon the child became a member of the family.
The taxi driver cries while delivering Sohail to his grandfather
The family named the child Muhammad Abed and posted his photos with their children’s on a Facebook page.
After the publication of the Reuters report about the missing child, some of Safi’s neighbors, who noticed his return from the airport months ago with a baby, got to know the photos and posted comments about his whereabouts on a translated copy of the agency’s report.
A representative of the Taliban during the handover of Hamid Safi Sohail to his grandfather
Ahmadi asked his relatives residing in Afghanistan, including his father-in-law, Muhammad Qasim Rizvi, 67, who lives in the northeastern province of Badakhshan, to search for Safi and demand that the child be returned to the family.
Rizvi said that he traveled for two days and two nights to the capital, bringing gifts, including a slaughtered lamb, several kilograms of nuts, and some clothes for Safi and his family.
Signing of the agreement between the two families
But Safi refused to abandon Sohail, insisting that he also wanted to evacuate him and his family from Afghanistan. For his part, Safi’s brother, who was evacuated to California, said that Safi and his family have not applied to enter the United States.
The baby’s family asked for help from the Red Cross, whose goals include reunification from their international crisis team, but said they had received little information from them.
The taxi driver’s wife feeds Sohail and one of her daughters is with her
Finally, feeling that all options had run out, Razavi called the local Taliban police to report the kidnapping of the child. Safi told “Reuters” that he denied the accusations in his statements to the police, as he confirmed that he was taking care of the child and had not kidnapped him.
Police investigated the report and the local police chief told Reuters he helped arrange a settlement that included an agreement signed by both parties with fingerprints. For his part, Razavi said, the child’s family eventually agreed to compensate a net 100,000 Afghanis (US$950) for expenses he spent looking after the child over the course of five months.
In the presence of the police and amidst the tears, the child finally returned on Saturday to his relatives.
Hamid Safi embraces Suhail in tears before handing him over to his grandfather
Razavi said that Safi and his family were deeply saddened by the loss of Sohail. He added, “Hamed and his wife were crying. I cried too. But I reassured them saying that you are young and God will give you a child. Not just one, but a number of children. I thanked them for saving the child from the airport.”
The baby’s parents told “Reuters” that they were overjoyed when we were able to see him and watch the family’s reunion via a video call.
Now Ahmadi, his wife and their children hope that Sohail will soon be moved to live with them in the United States, after they were able in early December to move from the military base to live in an apartment in Michigan.