'Afghan girl' heartbroken at being deported by Pakistan

Ms Gula said she had always considered Pakistan her homeland.
Ms Gula said she had always considered Pakistan her homeland.

PESHAWAR (Pakistan) • The Afghan woman immortalised on a National Geographic cover says she is "heartbroken" at news that she will be deported from Pakistan to the war-torn homeland she first fled decades ago.

Ms Sharbat Gula, whose blazing green eyes were captured in an image taken at a Pakistan refugee camp in the 1980s that became the magazine's most famous cover in history, spoke to the media from a hospital bed in Peshawar, where she is being treated for hepatitis C.

"Afghanistan is only my birthplace, but Pakistan is my homeland and I have always considered it as my own country," she said.

"I had decided to live and die in Pakistan but they did the worst thing to me. It's not my fault that I was born there (in Afghanistan). I am dejected. I have no other option but to leave."

Ms Gula, who says she is now 45, was arrested last week and accused of living in Pakistan on fraudulent identity papers following a two-year investigation. She is one of thousands of refugees using fake ID cards to seek safe haven from the violence roiling their own countries.

The illiterate mother-of-four pleaded guilty to the charges in court on Friday, her lawyer Mubashar Nazar said.

She was sentenced to 15 days' imprisonment, after which she will be deported in a decision slammed by Amnesty International as a "grave injustice".

"She has already spent 11 days in jail," Mr Nazar said, meaning she could be freed as early as tomorrow.

An Afghan consulate official said that a 110,000 Pakistani rupee (S$1,452) fine also imposed on Ms Gula had already been paid.

The 1985 National Geographic image of Ms Gula, then aged 12, made her the face of Afghanistan's decades-long refugee crisis.

After a 17-year search, the photographer, Mr Steve McCurry, tracked her down to a remote Afghan village in 2002, where she was married to a baker. She had three daughters at the time.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 06, 2016, with the headline ''Afghan girl' heartbroken at being deported by Pakistan'. Print Edition | Subscribe