A 2-year-old Afghan boy has been reunited with his parents in the U.S. after having been stuck in Afghanistan for nine months, his father told NBC News.
The parents of Hanzala Hadi had to leave their son behind during the chaos at Kabul airport in August as U.S. troops withdrew and the Taliban seized control of the country, NBC News previously reported. But the boy was then barred from flying out to join them because he did not have an Afghan passport, a requirement set by Qatar, which oversees flights for all U.S.-bound Afghan refugees.
The family appealed for help from the Biden administration and the Qatari government. But in January the Taliban halted all flights out for Afghan refugees bound for the U.S., and the flights only resumed in April.
“He is home now,” said his father, N. Hadi. "I can't believe it."
The boy landed Wednesday in New York, where he was greeted by his parents.
Hanzala’s parents and younger brother have resettled in Philadelphia. His father has a U.S. special immigrant visa because of his work with a private security company that helped train Afghan national police, and as a result his immediate family members automatically qualified for U.S. visas.
A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on Hanzala Hadi’s case due to “privacy considerations,” but said the Biden administration continues to work to help Afghans resettle in the U.S.
“We are committed to reuniting families, especially parents and minor children, who may have been separated during relocation operations in August 2021,” the spokesperson said.
On the morning of Aug. 16, N. Hadi and his family headed toward Kabul’s airport but soon became trapped in the crush of people trying to flee Afghanistan as U.S. troops pulled out.
In the chaos, he and his 2-year-old son, Hanzala, got separated from the rest of the family. His wife and their 1-year-old son eventually managed to reach the gate, and Marines let them into the airport.
But when Hadi and his son tried to gain entry, they were turned away, he said. After hours in the heat with no water left, he struggled to hold his son and protect him as Afghans shoved their way to the front and Taliban fighters beat people back.
Worried for the boy’s safety, he pulled back and called one of his brothers for help. He asked his brother to take Hanzala, give him water and keep him safe until they could be reunited inside the airport, he said.
“I was just trying to save Hanzala’s life,” Hadi said.
After he handed over the little boy, Hadi made it inside the airport and found his wife and youngest son. His brother tried to take Hanzala to the entrance several times, he said, but the Marines said the gate was closed. Hadi’s family reluctantly flew out of the country four days later.
Other Afghan families trying to resettle in the U.S. or other countries have struggled with the passport requirement.
Acquiring a passport has become extremely difficult and even dangerous since the Taliban returned to power in August. Afghans who worked for the U.S. military or with other Western-backed organizations face the risk of being detained, beaten or even killed if they visit passport offices, according to refugee and human rights groups.
Refugee organizations took up Hadi’s case. He wrote letters asking for help and authorizing his brother to escort Hanzala on a flight to Qatar.
The Biden administration has come under criticism over its handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and refugee groups and lawmakers have urged the White House to do more to help Afghans with U.S. ties trying to flee Taliban rule.
But with the U.S. Embassy closed, the Taliban in control on the ground and the Kabul airport lacking modern equipment, Washington has a limited ability to influence evacuation efforts, administration officials say.