US Won't Let Afghan Girls Attend Robotics Competition

Instead Team Afghanistan will watch their robot compete via Skype
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 1, 2017 4:04 PM CDT
Afghan Girls Denied Visa to Compete in Robotics Challenge
The teen girls of Team Afghanistan won't be able to watch their robot compete in the FIRST Global Challenge robotics competition this month after the US twice denied their visa applications.   (YouTube)

"We want to show the world we can do it, we just need a chance," 14-year-old Fatemah says. Fatemah is one of six teen girls competing for Team Afghanistan in the FIRST Global Challenge robotics competition. Forbes reports the team traveled 500 miles from their home in Herat to the American embassy in Kabul—twice—to apply for one-week travel visas to attend the competition this month in Washington DC. Despite the dangerous journey, they were rejected both times. "[They] were crying all the day," says Roya Mahboob, Afghanistan's first female tech CEO and the woman who brought the team together. The girls say they wanted the chance to make a difference, Mashable reports. "Most breakthroughs in science, technology, and other industries normally start with the dream of a child to do something great," the team states.

The State Department isn't saying why the girls were rejected. Teams from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, and Syria all had their visa applications accepted, and Afghanistan isn't on the list of six countries targeted by President Trump's travel ban. Afghanistan and Gambia are the only two teams—out of 163 competing—to have their visas denied. It may be due to the overall difficulty of securing a visa in Afghanistan. The Independent reports only 112 of the travel visas were granted in Afghanistan in May—but 780 were granted in Iraq and more than 4,000 in Pakistan. Team Afghanistan will watch their robot compete via Skype, and a video of the team will be played in their honor. FIRST Global President Joe Sestak calls them "extraordinarily brave young women." (More Afghanistan stories.)

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