National Geographic’s ‘Afghan girl’ given safety in Italy after escaping Taliban

A refugee who shot to fame in the National Geographic has been given a safe haven from Italy just months after the Taliban re-took over her homeland.

Sharbat Gula, also known as the iconic green-eyed “Afghan girl”, first gripped the world's attention after she was featured on the front cover of the magazine in 1985.

Her mesmerising eyes were captured by US war photographer Steve McCurry, when she was just 12 years old living in a refugee camp in Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan war.

On Thursday, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s office confirmed that the country has arranged for Gula, 49, to travel to Italy as part of their evacuation efforts for Afghan citizens looking to escape.

His office said they wanted to support her plea for help to leave Afghanistan, after many requests from those in civil society and non-profit organisations.

"The Presidency of the Council of Ministers has made this possible, organising for her to travel to Italy as part of the wider evacuation program in place for Afghan citizens and the Government’s plan for their reception and integration," his office said.

Gula, a widowed mother of four, had her identity revealed after photographer McCurry returned to the region and tracked her down in 2002.

It has been reported that she was arrested by Pakistani police for allegedly having a fake ID card in 2016, which she denied, reports the New York Post.

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Shortly after Gula was arrested, she was deported to Afghanistan, where she was welcomed by Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, who kindly handed her keys to an apartment.

Her arrival to Rome comes almost three months after the US finalised their full troop withdrawal and initial evacuation efforts of Americans and Afghan allies out of the country.

During the last few weeks leading up to the withdrawal deadline, the Taliban re-took control of most of Afghanistan and Kabul.

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Italy claimed that it evacuated nearly 5000 Afghans in August, which is believed to be the most evacuated country in the EU.

When the Taliban last ruled the country between 1996 to 2001, they stopped women from working and banned girls from attending school.

Since their take over in August, the group have since said they would respect "women's rights" and do things differently this time round.

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