ROME — The green-eyed Afghan girl, emblem of refugees after being immortalized more than 30 years ago on the cover of National Geographic magazine, arrived on Thursday in Rome, where she was removed after the Taliban returned to power.
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“Afghan citizen Sharbat Gula has just arrived in Rome,” the government announced in a statement, after recalling that she was photographed at age 12 in late 1984 in a Pakistani refugee camp, inadvertently becoming a worldwide symbol of the suffering and political and social instability in that region.
Gula asked to leave his country after the Taliban took power in August and the Italian government “facilitated and organized” his transfer to Italy as part of the program to remove Afghan citizens and the plan for their reception and integration, explains the communicated.
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The photo from three decades ago “has come to symbolize the vicissitudes and conflicts of that historic phase that Afghanistan and its people were going through,” wrote Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s press office.
Sharbat Gula arrived in Pakistan as an orphan four to five years after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, along with thousands of Afghans fleeing border combat zones.
Her image returned to circulating the world when photographer Steve McCurry sought her out again in 2002 and saw the difficult life the woman continued to lead. He then proposed that she return to pose for the cover of National Geographic.
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Illiterate and mother of four, Gula did not know that millions of people had seen her photo or that her image had triggered an international mobilization in favor of refugees.
In 2016, she was sent to Afghanistan, a country to which she did not want to return because she considered it unsafe.