They say you can never go home again, and for Sharbat Gula, this has been a life-long truth.
In June 1985, Sharbat captured the attention of the world when her unique sea-green eyes graced the cover of National Geographic. At the time, she was considered a symbol of Afghan refugees who had been displaced by the conflict between Afghanistan and Russia.
Gula has been a refugee her whole life. The concept of a stable Afghanistan is foreign to her.
— Mashable (@mashable) February 26, 2015
In order to live in safety, she and millions of other Afghans fled to nearby Pakistan. However, public sentiments there toward the refugees is currently less than sympathetic.
“We need them to leave Pakistan,” said Hamid-ul-Haq, an official in Peshawar.
The north-western city has a very large population of displaced Afghans, and he says it’s taken a negative toll on the city.
“All our streets, mosques, schools are overloaded because of them. It is time for them to leave Pakistan honorably.”
Sharbat Gula inadvertently found herself the representative of a new battlefield: The conflict over the fate of millions of displaced Afghans.
There are believed to be three million Afghans living in Pakistan. Gula is one of nearly 1.5 million who are in the country as refugees.
Unfortunately, Sharbat Gula was found to have used fraudulent documents in order to obtain a Computerised National Identity Card or CNID. The CNID is extremely hard for refugees to get, but it is essential if they wish to buy a house or open a bank account.
Sharbat and two men she claimed as her sons were able to get the CNIDs; on her document, she’s listed as “Sharbat Bibi”.
The National Database and Registration Authority is responsible for issuing identification. Spokesman Faik Ali Chachar told the AFP that it’s very common for Afghan refugees like Gula to use falsified information to obtain an ID.
In addition, many Pakistanis blame corrupt officials within the government for the problem.
Sharbat Gula, whose face and eyes are rather famous, was flagged rather quickly. Chachar said that Sharbat’s card was found to be fraudulent in August 2014. It was immediately blocked. In addition, four officials responsible for her fake ID were suspended.
Gula now finds herself in danger of becoming one of the thousands of Afghans who reports say were violently forced out of Pakistan.
— The Indian Express (@IndianExpress) February 21, 2015
In a way, the threat of displacement and violence have always been with Sharbat.
When asked if she ever felt safe, she replied “No.”
Is Pakistan right to want to push out Afghan refugees who’ve been there for decades? Is there another way to deal with refugees like Sharbat Gula?
[Image Credit: Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority]