National Geographic’s famed green-eyed “Afghan Girl” has arrived in Italy as part of the West’s evacuation of Afghans following the Taliban takeover of the country, the Italian government said on Thursday.
The office of Premier Mario Draghi said Italy organised the evacuation of Sharbat Gulla after she asked to be helped to leave the country. The Italian government will now help to get her integrated into life in Italy, the statement said.
Gulla gained international fame in 1984 as an Afghan refugee girl, after war photographer Steve McCurry’s photograph of her, with piercing green eyes, was published on the cover of National Geographic. McCurry found her again in 2002.
In 2014, she surfaced 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 apartment.
Italy was one of several Western countries that airlifted hundreds of Afghans out of the country following the departure of US forces and the Taliban takeover in August.
In a statement announcing Gulla’s arrival in Rome, Draghi’s office said her photograph had come to “symbolise the vicissitudes and conflict of the chapter in history that Afghanistan and its people were going through at the time.”
It said it had received requests “by those in civil society, and in particular by non-profit organisations working in Afghanistan” backing Gulla's plea for help to leave the country.
Italy organised her travel “as part of the wider evacuation programme in place for Afghan citizens and the government’s plan for their reception and integration,” the statement said.