March 20, 2018

Robotics Team Arrives In Kabul To Get Last-Minute US Visas

15 July 2017, 12:29 | Taylor George

Members of the Afghan robotics team on their arrival at Hamid Karzai International Airport

Members of the Afghan robotics team on their arrival at Hamid Karzai International Airport

The issue garnered a lot of backlash when it was first learned that six teenage girls had been denied US visas to participate in next week's FIRST Global Challenge, an worldwide robotics competition in Washington, D.C., that will include participants from about 160 countries, according to Politico.

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".

Trump intervened to find a way to permit the girls entry, the AP reports.

Many saw them as innocent victims of the harsher immigration barriers, especially from predominantly Muslim countries, taken up under US President Donald Trump's administration. Then to apply for visas, they traveled twice to Kabul - site of a bombing on May 31 that killed 150 people - and their applications were rejected.

As a result, the NSC consulted the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, which ultimately granted the girls entry into the US on a temporary "parole" status, meaning they can remain in the country for 10 days without an official visa as long as there is a public benefit to their visit.

"We were disappointed, and we were feeling bad, but now we are very happy that they have given us a chance to go", 14-year-old Fatemah Qaderyan told Reuters as the girls arrived in Kabul on Friday, bags packed for their trip to Washington, D.C.

"It's important for Afghan women to be able to share their ideas", said Mehraban.

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Watch as the Afghan Ambassador to the US, Dr Hamdullah Mohib, greets the team at the airport.

Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative nation and while girls are in school today, gaining rights for women and girls is still a struggle for many.

"All 163 teams from 157 countries have gained approval to the United States, including Iran, Sudan, and a team of Syrian refugees", said Sestak, a former US Navy admiral and congressman.

One member of the team, Yasamin said: "I thank the U.S officials who supported us and did not forget the people of Afghanistan". Airport workers and passengers wondered at the attention the girls were receiving, unaware of their identities. Members of the team from Gambia were also granted visas after initially being denied.

It remains unclear why their visa were initially rejected, but the US administration has imposed a travel ban on most people from six predominantly Muslim countries including Syria and Yemen, but not Afghanistan.

At the time, the team had this to say on its website, via HRW: "We want to make a difference and most breakthroughs in science, technology, and other industries normally start with the dream of a child to do something great".

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