ENTRY ALLOWED. Teenagers from the Afghanistan Robotic House,
a private training institute, practice at the Better Idea
Organization center, in Herat, Afghanistan. Six female students
from war-torn Afghanistan have been allowed to participate in an
international robotics competition in Washington, D.C. Of 162
teams participating, the Afghan girls were the only nationís
team to be denied visas. First Global, a not-for-profit charity,
holds the annual international robotics challenge in hopes of
sparking a passion for science and technology among high school
students around the world. (AP Photos/Ahmad Seir)
From The Asian Reporter, V27, #14 (July 17, 2017),
Afghan girls allowed into U.S. for robotics
By Jill Colvin
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON ó U.S. officials will allow a group of Afghan
girls into the country to participate in an international
robotics competition after President Donald Trump intervened,
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed, ending
a saga that had sparked international backlash.
Homeland Security Department spokesman David Lapan said U.S.
Citizenship and Immigration Services approved a State Department
request for six girls from the war-torn country to be allowed
in, along with their chaperone, so they can participate in the
competition. The girlsí applications for U.S. visas had been
The nonprofit organizing the competition celebrated the
reversal in 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," said Joe Sestak, the president of First Global. He
credited "the professional leadership of the U.S. State
Department" for ensuring that all 163 teams from 157 countries,
including a team of Syrian refugees, would be able to
The U.S. State Department had declined to comment on why the
Afghan teamís visa applications were denied, saying that "all
visa applications are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis in
accordance with U.S. law."
A senior administration official said Trump raised the issue
with his national security adviser, H.R. General McMaster,
during his trip to Germany for the Group of 20 summit, and had
asked for additional options. The State Department and
Department of Homeland Security came up with several ó with the
idea of "paroling" the girls through the Department of Homeland
Security ultimately chosen by the National Security Council. The
person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private
Parole is a temporary status in which a person who is
otherwise ineligible to enter the country is allowed in
temporarily because of an emergency or humanitarian purpose, or
because itís deemed to be in the public good.
Without the reversal, which was first reported by Politico,
the girls would have had to watch via video link from their
hometown in western Afghanistan.
The girls wanted to show the world that Afghans could also
construct a handmade robot and they had been deeply disappointed
by the initial rejections.
"When we heard that we were rejected, we lost hope," said
14-year-old Sumaya Farooqi. "We applied again for the U.S. visa
and we were rejected again."
Farooqi and her teammates faced seemingly insurmountable
obstacles to even get to a point where they could seek
permission to attend. It took them six months to prepare, often
working seven days a week, as they constructed a robot that
sorts balls, has the ability to recognize orange and blue
colors, and can move objects to put them in their correct
The girls travelled from their homes in Herat after
convincing family members to let them go ó no small feat in a
country where young girls are often discouraged from pursuing
academic study, especially in hard sciences such as math.
They made the 500-mile journey to the U.S. embassy in Kabul
twice because their applications were denied the first time,
even though that location was targeted by a deadly truck bomb on
May 31 in which more than 150 people were killed and more than
400 others wounded.
War-torn Afghanistan has faced a series of large-scale
attacks as the Taliban stepped up its war against the Kabul
government in this yearís summer offensive. In addition, the
emerging Islamic State group affiliate in Afghanistan has tried
to increase its footprint with attacks in urban areas.
Afghanistan is not part of Trumpís order to temporarily ban
travel from six Muslim-majority countries. Teams from Syria,
Iran, and Sudan ó which are on that list ó were granted visas to
compete. Members of the team from Gambia were also granted visas
after initially being denied.
First Global, a not-for-profit charity, holds the annual
international robotics challenge in hopes of sparking a passion
for science and technology among high school students around the
world. It is an "Olympics"-style competition in which one team
from every nation is invited to participate. It started July 16
and ends July 18 in Washington, D.C.
Associated Press writer Josh Lederman contributed to this