Sharbat Gula: National Geographic's Green-Eyed 'Afghan Refugee Girl' Given Asylum in Italy

Gula, who had piercing green eyes, gained international fame in 1984 as an Afghan refugee girl after war photographer National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry snapped her.

Sharbat Gula, the green-eyed Afghan woman who became famous after being featured on the cover of National Geographic in 1984, has been evacuated to Italy, the Italian government said on Thursday. Gula has been granted asylum in Italy after fleeing her war-torn nation, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi's office said.

The Italian government intervened after Gula sought for help to leave Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover of the country in August, a statement said. The Italian government will now help her to get integrated into life in Italy, the statement read.

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Sharbat Gula
Sharbat Gula featured on National Geographic Cover again in 2013 Twitter

The Italian government said that Gula who was trying o flee the country after Taliban took control of Kabul in August. She was seeking help and asylum for a long time and was finally evacuated after Draghi's government intervened.

Draghi's office added that her arrival was part of a broader program to evacuate and integrate Afghan citizens. "Afghan citizen Sharbat Gula has arrived in Rome," it said in a statement, without giving a specific date.

Rome said it had responded to pleas from non-profit organizations working in Afghanistan to help her leave the Taliban-controlled country, "organizing for her to travel to Italy as part of the wider evacuation program in place for Afghan citizens and the government's plan for their reception and integration".

Sharbat Gula now
Sharbat Gula now Twitter

Gula gained international fame in 1985 and got immortalized as an Afghan refugee girl after war photographer National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry snapped her. Gula then a young girl had piercing green eyes, an unlikely feature of Afghan women.

Her photograph was published on the cover of National Geographic. Since then she has been an enigma for millions.

Lost and Found Again

The original Nat Geo cover
The original Nat Geo cover featuring Sharbat Gula in 1985 Twitter

Gula became arguably Afghanistan's most famous refugee after that. However, she got lost after that and no one knew about her whereabouts. Interestingly, it was McCurry who found her again in 2002. An FBI analyst, forensic sculptor and the inventor of iris recognition all verified her identity, National Geographic said at the time.

Later, in 2014, she was traced back to Pakistan but soon she went into hiding after authorities alleged that she bought a fake Pakistani identity card. Authorities ordered that she be deported. She was flown back to Kabul in 2016 where the then president Ashraf Ghani hosted a reception for her at the presidential palace and handed her keys to a new flat.

Sharbat Gula holding Nat Geo
Sharbat Gula holding the original Nat Geo cover after she was rediscovered in 2002 Twitter

That said, Gula came to Pakistan earlier too as a child. She at that time had said that said she first arrived in Pakistan as an orphan, some four or five years after the Soviet invasion of 1979 as one of millions of Afghans who at that time had sought refuge over the border.

Italy was one of several European countries that airlifted hundreds of Afghans out of the country after the evacuation of US forces and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August. In early September, Rome said it had evacuated almost 5,000 Afghans from Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover.