Afghan toddler Maryam reunited with family 19 months after fall of Kabul

afghan toddler maryam reunited with family 19 months after fall of kabul

Afghan toddler Maryam united with relatives at a Qatar orphanage. AFP

An Afghan toddler, who was bundled on to 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 about 21 months old and given the name Maryam by the orphanage, saw her uncle Yaar Mohammad Niazi and her brother and two sisters again for the first time.

“I did not know if we would ever find her again, and now I am overcome with emotion,” said Mr Niazi, 40, the father of four.

“When I held her, I just told myself ‘she is alive’.”

The tearful reunion ended a desperate search for Maryam since the chaotic days of August 2021 when the Taliban took control of the Afghan capital, sparking a panicked mass flight.

Maryam’s parents were trying to flee with their four children when they were killed in a bomb blast and gun battle at Kabul airport that claimed 183 lives on August 26, 2021. The attack was claimed by the local chapter of the Islamic State group.

The little girl, whose birth name was Aliza, was only weeks old at the time.

Amid the carnage, a teenage boy grabbed her and carried her on to a US military flight taking Afghans and stranded expatriates to Doha, a Qatari official said.

She found a new home in Qatar’s Dreama orphanage, while her elder brother and two sisters stayed back in Afghanistan.

Maryam was the youngest of about 200 Afghan children to be evacuated alone on the flights that carried tens of thousands out of Afghanistan.

“We took them in and gave them specialised care,” said the Qatari official, speaking on condition of not being identified.

“We worked with Unicef to see if there were any family members.”

The UN children’s agency was quickly besieged with frantic requests from families back in Afghanistan looking for missing relatives.

Mr Niazi and the other three orphaned children were back in Afghanistan, where the Taliban installed a government for what they named the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Six weeks after the massive Kabul bomb blast, UN sleuths thought they had the baby’s identity.

“They contacted us to carry out DNA tests,” the Qatari official said.

Transporting the genetic test results between Doha and Kabul to seek a match took more time, as Niazi waited for months to get a passport from the new Taliban authorities so he could get his family to Qatar.

Now arrived in the Gulf state, Niazi said he would start the process of moving to the United States, together with his wife and the total of eight children now in their care.

“We just want to be somewhere safe,” he told AFP.

Social workers will give him and the siblings gradually increased access to Maryam, so they can slowly get to know each other.

Mr Niazi said the little girl will keep her new name because it is the one she answers to.

Other children at the Qatar orphanage have also been reunited with family members.

A three-year-old boy there has joined his father in Canada after a Qatari diplomat recognised him from a missing-child photo.

Most of the other children were aged at least eight, and many have now either joined relatives or been adopted by families in the US, Canada or Europe.

At one stage thousands of Afghans were in temporary shelters in Doha waiting for countries to take them. Now there are only about 15 left, the Qatari official said.

Hundreds more Afghans are still at a US military base in Qatar, many of them more recent arrivals, still awaiting the chance to find new homes abroad.

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