“Afghan Girl” From 1985 National Geographic Cover Takes refuge in Italy


Sharbat Gula’s haunting portrait was published by the magazine over three decades ago. It was evacuated to Rome following the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.

Sharbat Gula became an iconic figure of war-torn Afghanistan when her photograph of her at a refugee camp was published in National Geographic magazine, 1985. She was evacuated to Rome following the fall of her country to the Taliban, according to the Italian government.

According to the Italian government, since August when the U.S. pulled from Afghanistan, non-profit organizations have been asking for assistance in evacuating Ms. Gula.

The statement stated that “the prime minister’s office organized her transfer to Italy.” It didn’t say when she arrived and later, the foreign ministry said that it was not certain if she would stay in Italy or move to another country.

Ms. Gula is now in her 40s and the mother to several children. Steve McCurry took a photo of her in 1984, when she was 12 years old. She had a sharp, green-eyed gaze. She was not named until 2002 when McCurry found her in Afghanistan’s mountains and was able verify her identity.

An article by National Geographic in 2002 about Mr. McCurry and his search for her, described Ms. Gula as an adult: “Time had erased her youth. Her skin is leathery. Her jaw geometry has changed. Her eyes still glare, but that hasn’t changed.”

After being charged with obtaining false identity documents and a common practice among Afghans living in Pakistan, Ms. Gula was expelled from Pakistan. Human rights groups condemned the Pakistani government’s decision to send her back to Afghanistan. Ashraf Ghani (the Afghan president at that time) welcomed her warmly and gave her a government-funded apartment.

In August, Taliban leaders occupied the presidential palace that was formerly occupied by Mr. Ghani. Their takeover again forced hundreds of thousands of Afghans to flee. Pakistan prepared for 700,000 refugees. According to the government, Italy has evacuated more that 5,000 Afghans from Kabul.

More than 22,500 Afghan refugees were resettled in the United States as of November 19, with 3,500 being in one week. While they wait for housing, 42,500 others remain in temporary housing at eight military bases across the country.

The rights of Afghan women were expanding until the Taliban tookover. Afghan girls were attending school, getting college degrees, and participating more in civic life. The Taliban’s conservative rule has already placed restrictions on women, including the ban on them being allowed to play any sports. The Taliban have restricted women’s education and Taliban gunmen have been going door-to-door in certain neighborhoods searching for those who support the American efforts to rebuild the country.

Heather Barr, Human Rights Watch’s associate director for women’s rights, stated that it was extremely dangerous to be a prominent Afghan woman. According to Barr, there have been instances of high-profile women feeling intimidated or threatened and having to hide or change places in order to avoid being noticed.

Ms. Barr spoke out about Ms. Gula, saying that the Taliban do not want women visible.