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Girls & Women

Woman on National Geographic Cover, Until Recently a Refugee, Is Finally Welcomed Home

Steve McCurry's Facebook Page

When Sharbat Gula — the Afghan girl with piercing green eyes pictured on the cover of a 1985 National Geographic magazine — was detained in Pakistan on Oct. 23, her future as a refugee was thrust into even more uncertainty. Displaced from her home country of Afghanistan as a child, Gula had been living in Pakistan with her four children. She was arrested for having fake ID papers and served a 15-day prison sentence. 

Read more: Woman on 1985 National Geographic Cover Still an Emblem of Refugee Crisis

She was deported back to Afghanistan Tuesday, but received a warm welcome from Afghan president Ashraf Ghani. 

“We are proud to see that she lives with dignity, and with security, in our homeland,” Ghani said. “Our country is incomplete until we’ve received all our refugees.”

Gula was given a furnished apartment and welcomed into the presidential palace. She is one of an increasing number of Afghans who are being deported from Pakistan and other countries that had taken on Afghan refugees since the 1990s. 

Because of her status as a recognizable figure worldwide, Gula’s conditions upon returning home are not shared by all refugees being deported back to Afghanistan. Experts worry that the country may soon become overburdened by a large number of people being sent home, the New York Times reports. 

Read more: Afghanistan Makes Way For First Women’s University

Pakistan, for example, has given refugees until Nov. 15 to obtain legal residency in Pakistan before they are to be detained.

“Almost none of the Afghans leaving Pakistan are doing so in the belief that Afghanistan is now safer to live in,” the New York Times wrote. “Official pressure and discrimination are the most common reasons given.”

As for Gula, she told AFP that she did not want to go back to Afghanistan: "Afghanistan is only my birthplace, but Pakistan was my homeland and I always considered it as my own country,” she said. 

Still, it is encouraging to see refugees being treated with the respect Afghanistan’s president afforded Gula. Let’s hope Afghanistan can maintain this warm welcome as more people are repatriated back home, and that other countries will use this as an example of how all refugees should be treated.