'Afghan Girl' from 1985 National Geographic cover is evacuated to Italy, aged 49

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Sharbat Gula, the green-eyed "Afghan girl" in a renown 1985 National Geographic cover photo, pictured when the photo was taken in 1984 (left) and again in 2016 (right).
Stan Honda/AFP via Getty Images / Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
  • "Afghan Girl" who was on the cover of National Geographic in 1985 was just evacuated to Italy.
  • Sharbat Gula, 49, lived anonymously for many years in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • She's in Rome as part an evacuation programme for Afghan citizens, the Italian government said.
  • For more stories go

The "Afghan Girl" with piercing green eyes who gained worldwide recognition after appearing on the cover of a 1985 National Geographic has fled her home country and arrived in Rome.

The Italian government said in a statement on Thursday that the move was "part of the wider evacuation programme in place for Afghan citizens" since the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan. CNN reported that she has been granted refugee status by Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

The girl, Sharbat Gula, now 49, was photographed in a Pakistani refugee camp during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1984. 

At the time, Gula was roughly 12 years old, and sitting in a tent being used as a classroom. After her picture was taken, she grew up, left the refugee camp in the early 1990s, started a family, and remained largely anonymous until the American photographer who took her photo, Steve McCurry, tracked her down again in 2002.  

McCurry told NPR then that Gula had led a "relatively peaceful" and "traditional Pashtun" life. 

Photographer Steve McCurry in October 2016. In the background is one of his most famous pictures of an Afghan girl.
Felix Hörhager/picture alliance via Getty Images

But then, in 2016, Gula was deported from Pakistan to Afghanistan after she was accused of buying a fake Pakistani ID card. At the time, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani welcomed her back to the country and promised to house her in a furnished apartment.

"I've said repeatedly, and I like to repeat it again, that our country is incomplete until we absorb all of our refugees," Ghani said at the time, the Guardian reported. 

Five years later, it was Ghani himself who fled Afghanistan, as the Taliban took control of the country in August.

A protester holds the famous Afghan Girl photo, a 1984 portrait of Sharbat Gula by photojournalist Steve McCurry on August 28, 2021, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

McCurry told NPR the photo of Gula is one that people tend to come back to "over and over again." 

"I think part of the chord that it struck in people all over the world is this combination of a young girl who's very pretty, yet there seems to be something troubling about her," he said. "There's a dignity, there's a fortitude, there's a lot of different levels."

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