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“Afghan Girl” from 1985 National Geographic Cover takes refuge in Italy


Sharbat Gula, who became an international symbol of war-torn Afghanistan after her portrait in a refugee camp was published on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985, was evacuated to Rome after her country fell to the hands of Taliban, the Italian government announced Thursday.

Since the United States withdrew from Afghanistan in August, nonprofits have asked for help to evacuate Ms. Gula, the Italian government said in a statement.

“The Prime Minister’s office caused and organized his transfer to Italy,” the statement said. He did not say when she arrived, and the Foreign Ministry later said it was unsure whether she would stay in Italy or go elsewhere.

Ms Gula, now in her 40s and a mother of several children, was said to be 12 when Steve McCurry photographed her, with piercing green eyes, in 1984 in a refugee camp in Pakistan. He only learned her name in 2002, when he found her in the mountains of Afghanistan and was able to verify her identity.

A 2002 National Geographic article on Mr. McCurry’s search for her described the adult Ms. Gula: “Time and hardship had erased her youth. His skin looks like leather. The geometry of his jaw softened. The eyes are still shining; which has not softened.

In 2016, Ms. Gula was deported from Pakistan after being arrested for obtaining false identity documents, a common practice among Afghans in Pakistan. Human rights groups have condemned the Pakistani government for returning her to Afghanistan. On his arrival, then Afghan President Ashraf Ghani gave him a warm welcome and offered him a government-funded apartment.

In August, Taliban leaders moved into the presidential palace which had been occupied by Mr. Ghani. Their takeover once again displaced hundreds of thousands of Afghans. Pakistan has prepared to welcome up to 700,000 refugees. Italy has evacuated more than 5,000 people from Kabul, the government said.

In the United States, more than 22,500 Afghan refugees had been resettled as of November 19, including 3,500 in one week in October. About 42,500 others remain in temporary accommodation at eight military bases across the country while they wait for accommodation.

Until the Taliban took power, the rights of Afghan women had been extended. Afghan girls went to school and obtained university degrees, and more were involved in civic life. But in the early months of the Taliban’s conservative regime, women have already faced new restrictions, such as not being allowed to play sports. The Taliban severely restricted women’s education, and Taliban gunmen have been door-to-door in some neighborhoods looking for anyone supporting US efforts in the country.

Heather Barr, associate director for women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, said it was a particularly dangerous time to be a leading woman in Afghanistan. She said there had been cases of prominent women threatened or intimidated, or feeling that they had no choice but to remain in hiding or constantly change locations to avoid attention.

“The Taliban don’t want women to be visible, and she is an extremely visible Afghan woman,” Barr said of Ms. Gula.

Gaia Pianigiani contributed to reports from Rome.


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