Pakistan to deport National Geographic ‘Afghan Girl’

Peshawar, Nov 4: An Afghan woman who appeared on a National Geographic cover when she was 12 will be sent back to the war-stricken homeland she fled decades ago, after a Pakistani court ordered that she be deported.

Sharbat Gula, whose striking green eyes were captured in an image taken by photographer Steve McCurry in a refugee camp in Pakistan in 1985, was arrested last week.

She was accused of living in Pakistan on fraudulent identity papers after a two-year investigation, one of thousands of refugees using fake ID cards.

Gula pleaded guilty on Friday, her lawyer said, and the court sentenced her to 15 days’ imprisonment and a 110,000 Pakistani rupee (£1,319) fine.

“She has already spent 11 days in jail,” Mubashar Nazar said. “We had requested the court release her on humanitarian grounds.”

An Afghan consulate official said the fine imposed on Gula had been paid and she would be released on Monday. “We will take her to Afghanistan in an honourable way on Monday,” said Abdul Hameed Jalili, a counsellor for refugees at the Afghan consulate in Peshawar.

Her four children will also return to Afghanistan. Gula, who has hepatitis C, has said her husband died several years ago.

The National Geographic image of Gula became the most famous cover in the magazine’s history. After a 17-year search, McCurry tracked Gula down to a remote Afghan village in 2002, where at the time she was married to a baker and had three daughters.

Pakistani officials say she applied for the fraudulent ID card in Peshawar in 2014.

Gula’s plight highlights the desperate measures many Afghans take to avoid returning to their homeland, as Pakistan takes a tougher stance on undocumented foreigners.

Pakistan has for decades provided a haven for millions of Afghans after the Soviet invasion of 1979. But since July hundreds of thousands have returned to Afghanistan.

Last month the UN refugee agency said more than 350,000 documented and undocumented Afghan refugees had returned from Pakistan in 2016. It expects a further 450,000 to do so by the year’s end.

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