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UNHCR not to pursue ‘Afghan Girl’ Sharbat Gula’s case

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Thursday distanced itself from Sharbat Gula, Nat Geo’s famed ‘Afghan Girl’ who has been detained by authorities in Pakistan for the alleged forgery of a Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC).

According to media reports the United Nation’s refugee agency in Pakistan claimed that Sharbat Gula is not a registered refugee.

Senior External Relations Officer UNHCR Pakistan Dan McNorton told that “they cannot extend any assistance to the detained Afghan woman as she is not registered refugee with UNHCR,”.

Sharbat Gula, who fled Afghanistan during Soviet occupation shot to fame after her photograph as a young refugee was published on the cover of National Geographic back in 1985 on her arrival to Peshawar.

Gula was arrested a day earlier from her Peshawar residence by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for alleged forgery of a CNIC.

She faces seven to 14 years prison time and fine between $3,000 to $5,000 if convicted by court over fraud, a National Database Registration Authority (Nadra) official said Wednesday.

Nadra’s vigilance department and an official of the FIA rejected information provided on the Nadra form as fake, and the FIA official ordered cancellation of CNICs of Gula and her alleged sons.

Details of the form had claimed that Sharbat Gula had two sons. The FIA official maintained that she has two daughters and a two-year-old son.

The official added that relatives present at the given address have refused to recognise two persons listed as her sons in the form.

“Yes, the UNHCR would have helped her if she was arrested under Foreign Act and if she was a registered refugee. But now we cannot help her,” Duniya Aslam Khan, Communication Officer at UNHCR said.

According to the UN refugee agency, the first census of Afghan refugees in Pakistan started in 2006 and the refugees that turned out at registration offices got Proof of Registration (PoR) cards thus getting permission of their legitimate stay in Pakistan.

“I think Sharbat Bibi missed that opportunity and could not register herself as refugee,” Duniya Aslam Khan explained when asked as to why the refugee agency could not register her.

The UNHCR was contacted by Afghan diplomats in Islamabad anticipating that she will be rescued by the refugee agency for being refugee.

Expressing concern over the arrest of Sharbat Gula, the Afghan government has decided to take up the issue with Pakistani government, sources said.

An official at the Afghan Consulate in Peshawar told the Afghan government will pursue the case in a Pakistani court and provide a lawyer and legal assistance to Gula, who is an Afghan national.

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