REFUGEES

Pakistani court rejects bail request of National Geographic’s ‘Afghan girl’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2016, 5:15pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2016, 5:15pm

A Pakistani court refused bail Wednesday to an Afghan woman immortalised on a National Geographic cover after she was arrested in Pakistan and accused of being one of thousands of refugees using fake ID cards.

She [Gula] impersonated herself as Pakistani citizen without legally adopting the status of same
Judge Farah Jamshed

Pakistan last week arrested Sharbat Gula, whose haunting green eyes – captured in an image taken in a Pakistan refugee camp by photographer Steve McCurry in the 1980s – became the most famous cover in the magazine’s history. She was accused of living in the country on fraudulent identity papers following a two-year investigation into her and her husband, who has absconded.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told a press conference 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”. However a judge in the northwestern city of Peshawar rejected bail for Gula, and said she had failed to make her case.

She got both a computerised ID and a manual ID, judge Farah Jamshed said in a written judgement, “meaning that on both occasions she impersonated herself as Pakistani citizen without legally adopting the status of same”.

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Officials say Gula applied for a Pakistani identity card in Peshawar in 2014, using the name Sharbat Bibi. Her 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 safe haven for millions of Afghans who fled their country after the Soviet invasion of 1979.

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Until recently the country had hosted some 1.4 million Afghan refugees, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, making it the third-largest refugee hosting nation in the world. A further one million unregistered refugees were 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, as even Pakistan’s famed hospitality ran out. Last month the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said more than 350,000 Afghan refugees – documented and undocumented – had returned from Pakistan so far in 2016, adding it expects a further 450,000 to do so by the year’s end.