Italy grants National Geographic's 'Afghan Girl' refugee status

The cover photo came to symbolise 'the vicissitudes and conflicts' of the war-torn country in the 1980s

The haunting image of the then-12-year-old was taken in Pakistan in 1985. Photo: AP/Reuters
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Thirty-six years after her appearance on the cover of National Geographic magazine Sharbat Gula - known as the 'Afghan Girl' has been granted refugee status in Italy by Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

The haunting image of the then-12-year-old taken in a Pakistan refugee camp by photographer Steve McCurry, became the most famous cover image in the magazine's history.

A statement from the office of Italian Mario Draghi said the famed cover turned Ms Gula into a symbol of "the vicissitudes and conflicts of the phase history that Afghanistan and its people were going through."

"Responding to the requests of those in civil society and in particular among the non-profit organizations active in Afghanistan which, after the events of last August, received Sharbat Gula's appeal to be helped in leaving their country, the Prime Minister took it upon himself and organized her transfer to Italy within the broader context of the program for the evacuation of Afghan citizens and the government's plan for their reception and integration."

It is believed Ms Gula is now in Rome and is markedly better news than the last time she made global headlines when she was arrested in Pakistan in 2016.

Steve McCurry spoke told US broadcaster CNN in 2016 that he "knew she had an incredible look, a penetrating gaze" but was only sure the picture was special once he developed it.

"There was a crowd of people around us, the dust was swirling around, and it was before digital cameras and you never knew what would happen with the film," he said.

As is only too well known, the years since Mr McCurry photographed Ms Gula have not brought a change of fortunes for war-torn Afghanistan.

Now back under Taliban control after the withdrawal of US and Nato troops from the country in August, and battling a devastating humanitarian crisis, Afghan refugees continue to seek safety and security around the world.

Afghans flee to Pakistan - in pictures

Updated: November 26, 2021, 1:50 PM