Italy grants asylum to Afghan National Geographic cover star Sharbat Gula
36 years after she was featured on the world-famous cover of National Geographic magazine, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi granted Afghani Sharbat Gula refugee status in Italy so she could find a safe haven there.
A statement from the Prime Minister's Office stated that the famous cover turned Ms. Gola into a symbol of "the vicissitudes and struggles of the historical period that Afghanistan and its people were going through."
He added that the Italian government would help her integrate into life in Italy.
Photographer Steve McCurry captured the haunting image of her piercing gaze when she was just 12 years old in a refugee camp in Pakistan.
He said he "knew she had a great look", but he did not expect it to achieve international fame when it was printed and placed on the cover of the famous magazine in 1985.
The Daily Mail reported that Sharbat Gula became the face or symbol of the Afghan war after the publication of her piercing green eyes in an iconic photo taken in a refugee camp in Pakistan when she was 12.
National Geographic said at the time that an FBI analyst, forensic engraver and inventor of iris recognition had verified her identity.
After 17 years of searching, photographer Steve McCurry traced Gola to a remote Afghan village in 2002, where she was married to a baker and the mother of three daughters at the time.
In 2014, she appeared in Pakistan but went into hiding when authorities accused her of buying a fake Pakistani identity card in an attempt to live in the country.
She was arrested in 2016 and a Pakistani court ordered her deportation to Afghanistan.
She, a mother of four, now 40, was sentenced to 15 days in prison and a $1,122 fine.
Gula and her children were handed over to the Afghan authorities at the Torkham border crossing, about 37 miles northwest of Peshawar, Pakistan.
She was visibly unhappy, and before crossing, she once turned to look at Pakistan, her homeland of many years, and muttered, almost crying, the good wishes of the Pakistani people, according to two customs officials at the scene.
From there she was flown to Kabul, where former President Ashraf Ghani and his wife, Rula, held a grand reception at the presidential palace and handed her the keys to a new apartment.
Ghani said of Gula at the time: “When she was a child, she captured the hearts of millions because she was a symbol of conflict and displacement.
"The sheer beauty and sheer energy that she showed off her face captured hearts and became one of the most popular images of the '80s to the '90s," he added.
Gula, who suffers from hepatitis C, told the media that her husband died several years ago.