The famous "Afghan Girl," who was featured on the cover of the National Geographic magazine in 1985, has been granted asylum in Italy. The now 49-year-old woman fled from Afghanistan and arrived in Rome.

The Italian government said Thursday that Sharbat Gula, a Pashtun orphan who appeared on the cover of the magazine when she was just 12 years old, has been granted refuge by Prime Minister Mario Draghi. Gula was part of the country's wider evacuation program for Afghan citizens fleeing from the Taliban rule.

Gula gained worldwide recognition for her piercing look in her photographed take in a Pakistani refugee camp when the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan. She was later tracked down decades later as no one had known her name for several years.

Her photograph soon became the symbol of conflict and transformation in the area. The Italian government said it had received Gula's appeal to seek refuge in the county as part of its work with non-profit organizations on the ground in Afghanistan. Draghi reportedly took it upon himself to ensure that Gula was brought to Italy safely. Officials said Gula along with others who are part of the evacuation program, will be received and integrated into the county.


Steve McCurry, the man who took the iconic photograph, said he already knew from the start when he met the little girl decades ago that her photograph would be special. He said he saw the girl in a crowd of people and was drawn to her "penetrating gaze." He added that when he showed the photograph to the editor of National Geographic, he immediately leaped to his feet and declared that it was going to be on the next cover.

After the photo was taken, Gula grew up in the camp and reportedly left a few years later. She has since married and started a family and remained largely anonymous. McCurry was finally able to track her down Pakistan in 2002.

McCurry said that since he took the iconic photograph, Gula had been living a "relatively peaceful" life with her family. In 2016, Gula was deported from Pakistan to Afghanistan after she was accused of obtaining a fake Pakistani ID. Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had welcomed her back to the country and promised to provide her and her family with a furnished home.

Ghani said during that time that he welcomed all refugees to Afghanistan. Just five years later, Ghani fled Afghanistan after the Taliban forcefully took over the country and its government.