Sohail, a baby terrifyingly lost by his family as they scrambled to flee the Kabul airport last August, has been located and returned to relatives in Afghanistan, Reuters reports. He became separated from his family when his father, a security guard at the U.S. embassy, handed him to a man he believed to be a U.S. soldier. He had been worried the baby would be crushed in the huge crowd.
But it was at that moment that the Taliban forced the crowd—including Sohail’s family—back. The family would not make it inside the airport for another 30 agonizing minutes. Unable to find the soldier, they were told the baby was likely already en route to the U.S., so the family also left.
Reuters reports that in reality, Sohail was with a taxi driver who had driven relatives to the airport and said he’d found the baby on the ground. “After he said he unsuccessfully tried to locate the baby’s parents inside,” Hamid Safi said he was going to raise the child as his own, even giving him a new name. But neighbors recognized the baby from a Reuters news report. Sohail’s father, Mirza Ali Ahmadi, then asked relatives to go to the area to look for the baby.
Sohail should have been reunited with his relatives at that point, but Reuters reports that Safi was refusing to return the baby, “insisting he also wanted to be evacuated from Afghanistan with his family.” Sohail’s relatives unsuccessfully sought assistance from the Red Cross before reporting a kidnapping.
Reuters reports that a local police commander negotiated Sohail’s return to his grandfather, as well as $950 for caring for the baby for five months. “In the presence of the police, and amid lots of tears, the baby was finally returned to his relatives.” Sohail’s parents, now resettled in Michigan, watched over video chat. Now the reunification turns to reuniting Sohail with his parents here.
“Our story now updated with video and U.S. government comments saying they are working to reunify baby Sohail with his parents in Michigan,” immigration reporter Mica Rosenberg tweeted. Because no evacuation flights are currently leaving Afghanistan, it could become a complicated process requiring the aid of the Qatari government. “The baby’s mother, Suraya, said she has gone from crying every day to not sleeping last night ‘due to happiness,’” Rosenberg continued.
This is tragically not the only instance of a child becoming separated from their family amid Operation Allies Rescue evacuations last summer. In November, Reuters reported that 10-year-old Mansoor was separated from his family as the Kabul airport was attacked with artillery fire. When the military rushed to shut the gates, Mansoon was caught inside, his parents and siblings outside.
But unlike Sohail, Mansoor was with an adult relative. They were evacuated and eventually resettled in the Seattle area. However, Mansoon’s parents were still in hiding in Afghanistan as of the report’s publishing. Roughly 1,300 Afghan children as of November have been placed with a sponsor relative after arriving to the U.S. without a parent. 266 children were still in custody of the Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement as of November because they have no family here.
“The administration of President Joe Biden is working on ways to expedite the entry of parents whose children are already in the United States, according to two U.S. officials who requested anonymity,” Reuters reported in November. Advocates continue to urgently push for quick reunifications, noting “huge amounts of stress and trauma for the children.”