Sharbat Gulla, the Afghan woman made famous by photographer Steve McCurry’s iconic Afghan Girl photo, has escaped the Taliban in Afghanistan and has been evacuated to Italy.
The 49-year-old Gulla, also known as Sharbat Bibi, received international attention as a young girl after photojournalist Steve McCurry photographed her at the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in Pakistan while Afghanistan was occupied by the Soviet Union. The striking portrait was featured as the cover of National Geographic in June 1985 and quickly became one of the most widely recognized portraits ever captured.
In 2016, Gulla found herself in legal trouble after she was found using fake documents to obtain a Pakistani identification card under the name “Sharbat Bibi.” As a result, Gulla was deported from Pakistan back to Afghanistan.
During this time, McCurry expressed his willingness to do everything possible to help her as Afghanistan’s then-president Ashraf Ghani welcomed her back to her birthplace and promised to provide her with a place to live, reports National Geographic. Ghani also promised that her children would have access to health care and schooling.
“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 during a small greeting ceremony.
Upon her arrival back to her home country, Gulla lived with security precautions due to her identification as the subject on the cover of National Geographic. Gulla has reportedly faced risk from conservative Afghans who don’t believe women should appear in the media.
After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, Gulla has now been displaced once more. The Italian government confirmed her arrival in Rome this week after the office of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi organized the evacuation.
The rescue operation was part of a program to support Afghan citizens, and Italy is one of several Western countries that have airlifted hundreds of Afghans out of the country. The Italian government also confirmed it will help Gulla integrate into life in Italy.
In regards to the famed portrait, Draghi says the photograph had come to “symbolize the vicissitudes and conflict of the chapter in history that Afghanistan and its people were going through at the time.”