Tens of thousands of Afghan refugees expelled from neighbouring Pakistan lack basic necessities.
Sharbat Gula – the green-eyed “Afghan girl” whose portrait featured on the cover of a National Geographic magazine in 1985 and who became a symbol of the refugee crisis caused by decades-long conflict in her country – will be deported from Pakistan to Afghanistan after a court found her guilty of obtaining a fake Pakistani identity card.
Gula’s sentence on Friday, which included a 15-day prison term and $1,000 fine, was much less than expected for using fraudulent identity papers, which normally carries a 14-year jail term..
According to Afghan consulate official Abdul Hameed Jalili, Gula will be released from detention after three days as she has already spent more than 10 days in prison since her arrest last week.
“On the coming Monday, she will be deported,” Jalili said. “The government and the people of Afghanistan await Sharbat Gula with great emotion, and will welcome her very warmly.”
Her legal case comes amid Pakistani pressure to send home 2.5 million Afghan refugees, even though Afghanistan faces a severe conflict with Taliban fighters.
Gula, who applied for a Pakistani identity card in the northwestern city of Peshawar in 2014 using the name Sharbat Bibi, had been living there for years with her husband and children. Her family has said her husband died a few years ago.
Gula was for years the face of Afghanistan’s suffering, after National Geographic published the image of the young refugee, her defiant, pained eyes staring out from an unsmiling face, framed by a shawl over her head.
Gula, whose haunting green eyes were captured in an image taken in a Pakistan refugee camp by photographer Steve McCurry in the 1980s, became the face of the humanitarian crisis caused by Afghanistan’s conflict.
Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan’s interior minister, said on Sunday the country would review her case on the grounds that “she is a woman” and the government “should see it from a humanitarian angle”.
The Pakistan government has stepped up its crackdown on Afghan refugees, insisting many attacks in the country had links with Afghanistan and, therefore, the refugees must now go home.
Gula’s arrest highlights the desperate measures many Afghans are willing to take to avoid returning to their war-torn homeland as Pakistan cracks down on undocumented foreigners.
Pakistan has for decades provided a safe haven for millions of Afghans who fled their country after the Soviet invasion of 1979.
Until recently the country had hosted up to 1.4 million Afghan refugees, according to UNHCR, making it the third-largest refugee-hosting nation in the world.
A further one million unregistered refugees are also believed to be in the country.
But since July hundreds of thousands have returned to Afghanistan in a desperate exodus amid fears of a crackdown.
Last month UNHCR said more than 350,000 Afghan refugees, documented and undocumented, had returned from Pakistan so far in 2016, adding that it expects a further 450,000 to do so by the year’s end.