Everyone recognizes her face from the cover of National Geographic nearly thirty years ago. Sharbat Gula’s iconic picture served as the face of the millions of refugees who were forced to flee their homes in the Middle East. After leaving Afghanistan, Gula eventually resettled in Pakistan and for years, has been known as “the word’s most famous refugee and seen as a symbol of Pakistan’s status as a generous host.” Gula has lived in Pakistan for the past two decades and has had several chidlren.
Two weeks ago, Gula was arrested by Pakistani authorities who found that she had obtained false identity documents in an attempt to avoid being forced to return to Afghanistan. As a result, she was faced with detention for two weeks and deportation.
However, President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan arranged for Gula to return to Afghanistan with a warm welcome and an apartment already set up for her. President Ghani has been a huge proponent of receiving Afghans back into their country and his moves to welcome Gula clearly reflected that. Although this will likely be a difficult transition for Gula as she hasn’t been back to the country of her birth in thirty years and her children have never been there, this will hopefully serve as an encouraging message to other Afghan refugees.
This event has also highlighted Pakistan’s cold treatment of refugees and shows to the rest of the world the many challenges still faced by refugees throughout the Middle East. Just as Gula’s photograph swept the world thirty years ago, we can only hope that her photograph decades later will have a similar effect in improving the lives of refugees.
For the full NY Times article, click here.