‘Afghan girl’ from National Geographic evacuated to Italy at age 49

  • “Afghan Girl”, which was on the cover of National Geographic in 1985, had just been evacuated to Italy.
  • Sharbat Gula, 49, lived anonymously for many years in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • She is in Rome as part of an evacuation program for Afghan citizens, the Italian government said.

The “Afghan girl” with penetrating green eyes, who gained worldwide recognition after appearing on the cover of a 1985 National Geographic, has fled her homeland and arrived in Rome.

The Italian government said in a statement on Thursday that the move was “part of the broader evacuation program in place for Afghan citizens” since the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan. CNN reported that she has been granted refugee status by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

The girl, Sharbat Gula, now 49, was photographed in a Pakistani refugee camp during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1984.

At the time, Gula was about 12 years old and sitting in a tent that was used as a classroom. After her photo was taken, she grew up, left the refugee camp in the early 1990s, started a family and remained largely anonymous until the American photographer who took her photo, Steve McCurry, tracked her down again in 2002.

McCurry told NPR at the time that Gula had led a “relatively peaceful” and “traditionally Pashtun” life.

photographer steve mccurry sits and signs a book

Photographer Steve McCurry in October 2016. In the background is one of his most famous photos of an Afghan girl.

Felix Hörhager / image alliance via Getty Images


But then, in 2016, Gula was deported from Pakistan to Afghanistan after she was accused of buying a fake Pakistani ID card. At the time, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani welcomed her back to the country and promised to house her in a furnished apartment.

“I have said repeatedly and I would like to repeat it again that our country is incomplete until we absorb all our refugees,” Ghani said at the time, the Guardian reported.

Five years later, it was Ghani himself who fled Afghanistan when the Taliban took control of the country in August.

a protester holds up a sign with the picture of the Afghan girl that reads 'You Valued My Beauty, Now You Value My Life.'

A protester holds the famous photo of Afghan Girl, a 1984 portrait of Sharbat Gula by photojournalist Steve McCurry on August 28, 2021 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Artur Widak / NurPhoto via Getty Images


McCurry told NPR that the image of Gula is one that people tend to return to “over and over again.”

“I think part of the chord that it broke through in people all over the world is this combination of a young girl who is very beautiful, yet it seems that there is something worrying about her, ” he said. “There is a dignity, there is a strength, there are many different levels.”

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