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National Geographic ‘Afghan girl’ granted refuge in Italy

Sharbat Gula has been evacuated to Italy. Source: Reuters. 

ROME: Sharbat Gula, the green-eyed Afghan woman immortalised decades ago on a National Geographic cover, has been evacuated to Italy after the Taliban takeover.

“Afghan citizen Sharbat Gula has arrived in Rome,” the Italian government said in a statement, without giving a specific date.

Rome said it had responded to pleas from non-profit organisations working in Afghanistan to help her leave the Taliban-controlled country, “organising for her to travel to Italy as part of the wider evacuation programme in place for Afghan citizens and the government’s plan for their reception and integration”.

The office of the prime minister, Mario Draghi, said Italy organised the evacuation of Sharbat Gula after she asked to be helped to leave the country. The Italian government would help to get her integrated into life in Italy, the statement said.

Gula became arguably Afghanistan’s most famous refugee after US photographer Steve McCurry captured her portrait in a Pakistan camp in the 1980s and it was published on the front cover of the National Geographic magazine.

READ MORE: UN warns of ‘colossal’ Afghan banking system collapse

Gula said she first arrived in Pakistan an orphan, some four or five years after the Soviet invasion of 1979, one of millions of Afghans who have sought refuge over the border since. She was deported back to Afghanistan in 2016 after she was arrested for living in Pakistan on fraudulent identity papers.

In 2014, she was in Pakistan but went into hiding when authorities accused her of buying a fake Pakistani identity card and ordered her deported. She was flown to Kabul where the president hosted a reception for her at the presidential palace and handed her keys to a new flat.

In early September, Rome said it had evacuated almost 5,000 Afghans from Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power in August. Italy earlier this month said it had granted citizenship to Afghanistan’s first woman chief prosecutor, Maria Bashir, after she had landed in the European country on September 9.

Italy was one of five countries most involved with NATO’s US-led mission in Afghanistan along with Germany, Britain and Turkey. It was one of several western countries that airlifted hundreds of Afghans out of the country after the departure of US forces and the Taliban takeover in August.


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