Visa denial for Afghan girl roboticists team overturned

Marsha Scott
July 14, 2017

The organizers of the FIRST Global Challenge robotics competition had come up with an alternate solution when they believed the girls wouldn't be able to compete in person - they were going to watch their robot compete via Skype, organizers said.

The decision resolves a dispute that drew intense backlash from human rights activists and raised questions about whether US agencies were retreating from previous efforts to advocate for young women in Afghanistan, where they are often denied educational opportunities.

The decision gains importance in the wake of President Trump's ban on Muslims from entering the country.

United States authorities originally denied access to schoolchildren from several Muslim-majority nations who wanted to participate in the science competition, following the implementation of stricter visa policies under Trump.

A six-member team of Afghan schoolgirls has been finally granted United States visas to participate in a global robotics competition, a media report said on Thursday.

The State Department worked with Homeland Security on this specific case. A spokesperson for the agency told the Associated Press on Wednesday that "all visa applications are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis in accordance with USA law".

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According to Politico, Trump intervened to grant the robotics teams visas after hearing about the situation.

Reportedly, Trump raised the issue with his national security adviser, HR General McMaster, during his trip to Germany last week for the Group of 20 summit, and had asked for additional options.

In a tweet Wednesday, the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, said she looked forward to meeting "this brilliant team of Afghan girls".

Critics had argued that the visa denials sent the wrong message to Afghanistan, where USA troops are still fighting Taliban militants who once barred girls from attending school.

When they got the news that their visa applications had been denied, the girls were heartbroken. Robots will compete to collect clean and contaminated water "particles" represented by differently colored balls, and cooperation among the teams will also be rewarded throughout the competition, Mr. Sestak said.

"We just wanted to show the power and skills of Afghan girls to Americans".

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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