The Afghan woman, who became internationally known after being featured on the cover of National Geographic’s 1984 issue, has been evacuated to Italy, the country’s prime minister’s office said Thursday.
Sharbat Gulla, the woman behind the iconic photo taken by photographer Steve McCurry, arrived in Italy at the urging of “civil society, especially non-profit organizations working in Afghanistan,” to evacuate her, the Italian prime minister. Mario Dragh’s office said in a statement, the Associated Press reported.
Gulla sought help to leave Afghanistan as the nation now struggles with the Taliban regime after the collapse of its former government.
Draghi’s office said in a statement that the evacuation of Gulla was “part of a broader evacuation program for Afghan citizens and the government’s plan to receive and integrate them” in Italy, according to the AP.
Gulla was 12 years old and lived in a refugee camp when McCurry took her in a photo. The photo, in which he stares with green eyes piercing the camera, became one of the most famous covers of National Geographic ever.
AP reports said only a few times when it emerged that Gulla’s whereabouts were known. The news said that in 2002, McCurry saw the Afghan woman again. More than a decade later, he was deported from Pakistan after the Pakistani government claimed he was trying to obtain a false identity in the country.
The evacuation of Gulla, linked to other Afghans who have fled the country in recent months, shows the chaotic and long-lasting impact on a country whose fate changed dramatically as a result of the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The Taliban quickly seized large cities and provincial capitals when the United States withdrew its troops from the area in August.
Countries are careful not to formally recognize the Taliban as the leader of Afghanistan, and some authorities are concerned that the achievements of the past 20 years, particularly in the area of women’s rights, will be erased once again.