Published: Sun, July 16, 2017
Global Media | By Garry Long

Afghan all-girl robotics team gains entry to the United States

Afghan all-girl robotics team gains entry to the United States

The team of six will be showcasing robots they've created at the inaugural FIRST Global Challenge, a three-day competition at the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., featuring robotics teams from around world.

When Afghan 10th-grader Fatemeh Qaderian learned that her girls' robotics team had been denied visas to attend an global competition in Washington - despite applying twice - the 14-year-old said she "lost hope". "We applied again for the USA visa and we were rejected again".

The girls' story has also renewed the focus on the longer-term US plans for aiding Afghanistan's future, as Trump's administration prepares a new military strategy that will include sending more troops to the country where the USA has been fighting since 2001.

The U.S. State Department had told the Associated Press that it would not comment on why the girls' visas had been denied but that "all visa applications are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis in accordance with U.S. law".

Some might see things differently as a group of gifted people had to have the President of the United States intercede in the proceedings just to compete.

USA authorities had originally refused access to schoolchildren from a number of Muslim-majority nations to participate in the science contest, decisions that followed implementation of stricter visa policies under Trump. The young engineers will be allowed entry under a protocol known as "parole", in which they will not be given formal visas but can remain in the United States for no more than 10 days.

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"Seventeen years ago, this would not have been possible at all", Mohib told reporters. One team from each country is invited to participate, like an Olympics of high school robot builders.

First Global president Joe Sestak - who had previously expressed his disappointment in the girls' visa denial - has commended the USA government for overturning the ban. "Go girls!", tweeted State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

On two occassions they had trekked about 500 miles from Herat, in western Afghanistan, to the American embassy in Kabul to apply for the one-week travel visas, and they cried when they were refused.

The Taliban, ousted by the US -led coalition in 2001, denied schooling to girls when they ruled the war-torn country. The decision by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services means the six girls from the war-torn country will be allowed in, along with their chaperone, so they can participate in the competition.

The girls are working on a robot that can sort balls, which will compete against 163 other machines in a tournament called the FIRST Robotics Competition.

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