President Ashraf Ghani says refugee ‘represents all the brave women of this land.’
Afghanistan’s president on Wednesday welcomed back Sharbat Gula, the green-eyed woman immortalized on a National Geographic cover, after she was deported from Pakistan to the war-torn homeland she first fled decades ago.
Pakistani officials handed over Gula, whose haunting eyes were captured in a cover photo taken in a refugee camp in the 1980s, to Afghan border authorities after escorting her from a Peshawar hospital where she was being treated for Hepatitis C.
Gula, arguably Afghanistan’s most famous refugee, was arrested last month for living in Pakistan on fraudulent identity papers. “Pleased to have welcomed Sharbat Gula & her family back to [Afghanistan],” President Ashraf Ghani said on Twitter. “Her life inspires us all. She represents all the brave women of this land.”
The president and first lady Rula Ghani honored Gula and her children at a ceremony at the presidential palace in Kabul. Ghani has promised to provide Gula, 45, with a furnished apartment to ensure she “lives with dignity and security” in Afghanistan.
Since July hundreds of thousands have returned to Afghanistan in a desperate exodus amid fears of a crackdown, ahead of a March 2017 deadline for the final return of all Afghan refugees. Last month UNHCR said more than 350,000 Afghan refugees—documented and undocumented—had returned from Pakistan so far in 2016, adding it expects a further 450,000 to do so by the year’s end