ROME (AP) – National Geographic’s famous green-eyed “Afghan girl” has arrived in Italy as part of the West’s evacuation of Afghans following the Taliban’s takeover of the country, the Italian government said on Thursday.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s office said Italy was organizing the evacuation of Sharbat Gulla after she asked for help to leave the country. The Italian government will now help 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 showed up 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 over her keys to a new apartment.
Italy was one of several Western countries that aired hundreds of Afghans out of the country after the departure of US forces and the Taliban’s takeover in August.
In a statement announcing Gulla’s arrival in Rome, Draghi’s office said her photograph had come to “symbolize the upheavals and conflict in the chapter of history that Afghanistan and its people were going through at the time.”
It said it had received requests “from those in civil society, and in particular from non-profit organizations working in Afghanistan”, that support Gulla’s plea for help to leave the country.
Italy organized her trip to Italy “as part of the broader evacuation program in place for Afghan citizens and the government’s plan for their reception and integration,” the statement said.