Saturday 23 September 2017

Afghan girls robotic team allowed to attend US competition after visa denial overturned

The initial rejection sparked public outrage but now the team of six will be allowed to travel to Washington DC.

A group of teenagers from the Afghanistan Robotic House (Ahmad Seir/AP/PA)
A group of teenagers from the Afghanistan Robotic House (Ahmad Seir/AP/PA)

By Zaina Alibhai

A group of Afghan girls hoping to compete in a robotics competition in the US have been allowed to travel to the country after their visas were denied twice before.

The Homeland Security Department said the six girls had been granted entry to the country with their chaperone to participate in the international competition.

Non-profit charity First Global, who organised the event, celebrated the decision with a jubilant statement: “I truly believe our greatest power is the power to convene nations, to bring people together in the pursuit of a common goal and prove that our similarities greatly outweigh our differences.”

The US State Department declined to comment on why the girls’ visa application had previously been denied.

While Afghanistan wasn’t on the list of six Muslim-majority countries that face a temporary ban from the US, teams from three of those countries – Syria, Iran and Sudan – were granted visas to compete.

Teams from Gambia, Yemen and Libya were also given the green light to attend, with their visas having previously been denied.

As a result, all 163 teams from 157 countries are able to participate in the event being held on July 16 in Washington DC.

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(Ahmad Seir/AP/PA)

The Afghan girls, who have been preparing for the competition for six months, didn’t lose hope when their visa applications were first denied. They travelled 800km to the US Embassy in Kabul for the second time – despite the fact the area had been targeted by a deadly truck bomb that killed more that 150 in May – though were again unlucky.

A senior administration official said Donald Trump then raised the issue with his security advisor while at the G20 summit in Germany, and asked if there were additional measures that could’ve been taken. It was then settled the girls would be “paroled”.

This is a temporary status given to a person who is otherwise ineligible to travel to a country, allowing them entry for an emergency, humanitarian purpose or public interest.

Press Association

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