NatGeo’s ‘Afghan girl’ flees Taliban, given safe haven in Italy

Italy has given the iconic green-eyed National Geographic “Afghan girl” safe haven just months after the Taliban re-took control of her homeland.

On Thursday, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s office announced that the country organized for Sharbat Gula’s travel to Italy as part of their evacuation efforts for Afghan citizens looking to leave the embattled nation.

“In response to the requests made by those in civil society, and in particular by non-profit organizations working in Afghanistan, who, after the events of last August, have supported Sharbat Gula in her plea for help to leave her country, the Presidency of the Council of Ministers has made this possible, 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,” Draghi’s office said in announcing Gula’s arrival in Rome.

Gula first shot to world attention in 1985 after being featured on a National Geographic magazine cover. Her photo, most known for her striking green eyes, was taken by US war photographer Steve McCurry when she was in a refugee camp in northwest Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan war.

Gula’s welcoming in Italy is part of the country’s efforts to take in Afghan refugees following the Taliban’s takeover earlier this year.
Daniel Young/US Naval Forces Europe-Africa via AP
National Geographic's famed green-eyed "Afghan Girl" Sharbat Gulla poses for a photo during a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, at the Presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Nov. 9, 2016.
Sharbat Gulla, pictured here 2016, is now 49.
Rahmat Gul/AP

Her identity was revealed in 2002 when McCurry returned to the region and tracked her down.

Gula, now 49, was 12 years old when photographed by McCurry. She is currently a widowed mother of four.

In 2016, Gula was arrested by Pakistani police for having a fake ID card — charges she denied. Not long after being arrested, she was deported to Afghanistan, where she was warmly welcomed by Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, who gave her keys to an apartment.

Gula’s arrival in Italy comes nearly three months after the United States completed their full troop withdrawal and initial evacuation efforts of Americans and Afghan allies out of the country. In the final weeks leading up to the withdrawal deadline, the Taliban took control of much of Afghanistan and eventually Kabul, once again seizing control of the country.

In August, Italy claimed they evacuated nearly 5,000 Afghans, reportedly the most evacuated by a country in the European Union.

Photographer Steve McCurry poses with the iconic photo he took.
Photographer Steve McCurry poses with the iconic photo he took.
Sipa USA via AP

The Italian government intervened in the 49-year-old’s evacuation after Gula requested help to leave.

During their previous rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban prevented women from working, and banned girls from school.

Since taking control in August, the militant group has said they would respect “women’s rights,” including allowing women to attend school and work

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