It was a split second decision. Mirza Ali Ahmadi and his wife Suraya gathered with their five children on August 19 in a chaotic crowd outside the gates of Kabul airport in Afghanistan when a US soldier, on the other side of the high fence, told them asked if they needed help.
Fearing that their two-month-old baby, Sohail, would be crushed in the melee, they handed him over to the soldier, believing that they would soon arrive at the entrance, which was only about 5 meters away.
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But by then, Mirza Ali said, the Taliban – who had quickly taken control of the country as US troops retreated – began pushing back hundreds of hopeful evacuees. It took the rest of the family over 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 US Embassy for 10 years, began desperately to ask every official he met where his baby was. He said a military commander told him the airport was too dangerous for a baby and he could have been taken to a special area for children. But when they got there, it was empty.
“He walked with me all around the airport to search everywhere,” Mirza Ali said in an interview via a translator. He said he never got the commander’s name because he didn’t speak English and relied on Afghan colleagues at the embassy to help him communicate. Three days passed.
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“I spoke to maybe over 20 people,” he said. “Every officer – military or civilian – I found out that I was asking questions about my baby.”
He said one of the civilian officials he spoke to told him Sohail may have been evacuated on his own. “They said ‘we don’t have the resources to keep the baby here’.”
Mirza Ali, 35, Suraya, 32, and their other children, 17, 9, 6 and 3, were put on an evacuation flight to Qatar and then to Germany and eventually landed in the United States . The family are now in Fort Bliss, Texas with other Afghan refugees waiting to be resettled somewhere in the United States. They don’t have parents here.
Mirza Ali said he saw other families handing their babies over the fence at Kabul airport to soldiers at the same time. A video clip of a tiny baby in a diaper hoisted by his arm over razor wire has gone viral on social media. She then reunited with her parents.
Since her baby went missing, the dates have been unclear, said Mirza Ali. Everyone he meets – aid workers, American officials – tells them about Sohail. “Everyone promises to do their best, but these are just promises,” he said.
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An Afghan refugee support group has created a “Missing Baby” sign with Sohail’s photo on it and is circulating it among their networks in the hope that someone recognizes it.
A US government official familiar with the situation said the matter was reported for all agencies involved, including US bases and overseas sites. The child was last seen being handed over to a US soldier during the chaos at Kabul airport, but “unfortunately no one can find the child,” the official said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Defense and a spokesperson for the US Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the resettlement efforts, referred questions about it to the State Department, since the separation took place in the ‘foreigner. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Suraya, who also spoke through an interpreter, said she cried most of the time and her other children were upset.
“All I do is think about my child,” Suraya said. “Everyone who calls me, my mother, my father, my sister, they all comfort me and say to me ‘don’t worry, God is good, your son will be found.’
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