An Afghan toddler bundled on an evacuation flight from Kabul in 2021 after her parents died in a bomb blast has been reunited with relatives at a Qatar orphanage.
The little girl, now believed to be around 21 months old and named Maryam from the orphanage, saw her uncle Yaar Mohammad Niazi and her brother and two sisters again for the first time.
“I didn’t know if we would ever find her again, and now I’m overcome” said Niazi, around 40 years old with four children of his own. “When I held her, I said to myself ‘she’s alive’.”
The positive reunion ended a desperate search for Maryam since the tumultuous days of August 2021 when the Taliban took control of the Afghan capital, triggering a flight of panic.
Maryam’s parents were among those trying to flee with their four children when they were killed in a massive bomb blast and gun battle at Kabul airport that claimed 183 lives on August 26.
The little girl, born Aliza, was only weeks old when her mother and father died in the attack claimed by the local chapter of the Islamic State group.
Amid the carnage, a teenage boy grabbed her and carried her onto a US military flight taking stranded Afghans and expatriates to Doha, a Qatari official said.
She found a new home in the Dreama Qatar orphanage, while her older brother and two sisters stayed back in Afghanistan.
Maryam was the youngest of about 200 Afghan children who were evacuated alone on the flights that carried thousands out of Afghanistan.
“We took them in and gave them specialized care,” the Qatari official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We worked with UNICEF to see if there were any family members.”
The UN children’s agency was quickly overwhelmed with frantic requests from families back in Afghanistan looking for missing relatives.
– DNA tests –
Niazi and the other three orphaned children were back in Afghanistan, where the Taliban installed a government they named the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Six weeks after the explosion of a huge bomb in Kabul, United Nations sleuths believed that they had the identity of the child.
“They contacted us to do DNA tests,” said the Qatari official.
It took more time to transport the results of the genetic tests between Doha and Kabul to look for a match, while Niazi waited for months to receive a passport from the new Taliban authorities so he could bring his family to Qatar.
Now arrived in the Gulf state, Niazi said he would begin the process of moving to the United States, along with his wife and the total of eight children who are now in their care.
“We want to be somewhere safe,” he told AFP.
Social workers will gradually give Maryam access to him and his siblings, so they can slowly get to know each other.
Niazi said the little girl will keep her new name because it is the one she answers to.
Other children in a Qatar orphanage have been reunited with family members.
A three-year-old boy was then reunited with his father in Canada after a Qatari diplomat identified him from a photograph of a missing child.
Most of the other children were at least eight years old, and many have now been reunited with relatives or adopted by families in the United States, Canada or Europe.
At one time thousands of Afghans were in temporary shelter in Doha waiting for countries to take them. Now there are only about 15 left, the Qatari official said.
Hundreds more Afghans remain at the US military base in Qatar, many of them recent arrivals, still waiting for the opportunity to find new homes abroad.