Baby 'Aya' born under Syria earthquake rubble is adopted by aunt and uncle

Infant has been renamed Afraa, after her mother who was killed in February 6 disaster

Khalil Al Sawadi holds his niece, Afraa. The car salesman says he will take care of her like one of his own children. AP
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A baby girl who was born under the rubble of her family’s earthquake-shattered house in north-west Syria has left the hospital and is now at her new home.

Previously named Aya, the infant had been at the hospital since hours after the February 6 earthquake, but she was discharged on Saturday.

Her paternal aunt and husband have adopted the child and given her a new name, Afraa, after her late mother.

Afraa's mother died in the earthquake along with her father and four siblings.

Her story was widely shared in news reports, with people around the world offering help and some saying they would like to adopt Afraa.

However, relatives said the best place for the infant was with her family.

On Monday, Afraa was being cared for by her uncle, Khalil Al Sawadi, who is living with relatives in the town of Jindires in northern Syria after his home was also destroyed in the earthquake.

Mr Al Sawadi and his wife have four daughters and two sons.

“She is one of my children now. I will not differentiate between her and my children,” Mr Al Sawadi, who is also a cousin of the newborn's parents, told AP on Monday while holding Afraa, surrounded by his six children.

“She will be dearer than my children because she will keep the memory alive of her father, mother and siblings.”

He said days after Afraa was born, his wife gave birth to a daughter, Attaa.

While in the hospital in the nearby town of Afrin, Mr Al Sawadi's wife had been breastfeeding Afraa.

Baby Afraa has gone to her new home, with her paternal aunt's family.  AP

Judicial officials in Afrin had taken over the case of Afraa after some people visited the hospital claiming they were related to her, although they had different family names from her mother.

For days, Mr Al Sawadi was worried that someone might kidnap her and he visited the hospital frequently.

A hospital official said Afraa was handed over to her aunt's family days after a DNA test was conducted to make sure they were biologically related to the baby.

“It was sad and some nurses wept,” when she was taken from the hospital, said Dr Hani Maarouf, who took care of Afraa from the time she was brought to the centre.

He said the baby was in good health when she was discharged.

Rescuers in Jindires discovered the infant more than 10 hours after the quake as they were sifting through the wreckage of the five-storey apartment building where her parents lived.

Mr Al Sawadi said he rushed out of his home when the earthquake happened and found that the nearby building where Afraa's family lived had been reduced to a pile of rubble.

Along with others from the area, Mr Al Sawadi said they worked through the rubble in heavy rain for hours until he grew tired and sat to rest nearby.

Shortly afterwards, someone called him to identify a dead woman found under the rubble. He told people around that she was his cousin, Afraa.

Then, they started hearing a child crying and frantically removed the sand that covered the baby, whose umbilical cord was still connected to her mother.

Mr Al Sawadi said he took a razor from his pocked and cut the umbilical cord and handed the infant to another cousin and they rushed her to a nearby hospital where he was told that she was in good health.

They drove to another hospital in the nearby town of Afrin where they were told it was full and unable to take more patients. They continued to a second hospital, which was also at capacity, before reaching the children's hospital where she was kept until Saturday.

He said during the chaos after they pulled Afraa from under the rubble, Mr Al Sawadi thought that the newborn was a boy and told the doctor to name “him” after her late father Abdullah Turki Mleihan. They later found out it was a girl.

He said that the girl was kept in hospital for nearly two weeks until the paperwork for her adoption was done.

Red balloons tied to rubble honour children killed in earthquake

Red balloons tied to rubble honour children killed in earthquake
Red balloons tied to rubble honour children killed in earthquake

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake, with its epicentre in Turkey’s south-eastern Kharamanmaras province, struck in the early hours of February 6 and was followed by multiple aftershocks.

Many buildings in south-eastern Turkey and northern Syria were reduced to piles of broken concrete and twisted metal. More than 44,000 people have been reported dead, a toll expected to rise as search teams find more bodies.

The earthquake destroyed dozens of home in the town of Jindires, where Afraa’s family had been living since 2018.

Baby Afraa’s father, Abdullah Turki Mleihan, was originally from the village of Khsham in eastern Deir el-Zour province but left in 2014 after ISIS captured the village, Saleh Al Badran, his uncle said earlier this month.

“I will raise her in a way that she will not feel in need of anything,” said Mr Al Sawadi, who buys and sells cars. – Reporting by AP

Updated: February 21, 2023, 11:47 AM