An all-girls robotics team from Afghanistan selected for an international robotics competition in Washington, D.C. this month will have to watch their robot compete from afar after its members were denied visas by the US State Department.
The team of six teen girls, based in Herat, Afghanistan, had planned to compete in the inaugural FIRST Global Challenge, in which teams of young women and men from around the world showcase robots they created.
On the competition's website, the Afghan team's bio said, "As a dedicated group of students, mentors, and volunteers, we aim to transform the culture of our community through the STEAM program and become some of the young leaders of science and technology."
FIRST Global President and former Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak said in a statement that he is "deeply saddened about the Afghan team not getting visas." The organizers of the FIRST Global Challenge plan to Skype in the team from Afghanistan they can watch their robot and others in the competition.
The State Department said that visas are evaluated on a case-by-case basis and that they cannot comment on individual visa applications.
"While not privy to the exact reasons undergirding the decision, I know firsthand that the war environment is both turbulent and dynamic in Afghanistan," Sestak said.
"Visa decisions are often made regarding many whose lives are endangered; for example, those Afghans who supported US forces [such as by being interpreters] and who now seek a precious visa to the nation they supported because otherwise their own safety is in danger."
Two of the Afghan girls who were refused visas to the US said on Tuesday they were mystified by the decision, as the contest's organizers said teams from Iran and Sudan as well as a de facto Syrian team - "Team Hope" - had gained visas.
Afghanistan itself is not on the list and Team Afghanistan's robot, unlike its creators, has been allowed entry to the US.
Asked by Reuters on Tuesday why the girls were banned, a US State Department spokesperson cited regulations prohibiting the agency from discussing individual visa cases.
"We still don't know the reason why we were not granted visas, because other countries participating in the competition have been given visas," said 14-year-old Fatemah Qaderyan, part of the team that made two journeys to the US Embassy in the Afghan capital Kabul to apply for their papers.
According to data from the State Department, just 112 business visas for visitors from Afghanistan, like those the robotics team requested, were granted in May of 2017. By comparison, 256 were granted to Syrians, 780 to Iraqis and 1,091 to Iranians.
In a 26 June ruling, the US Supreme Court revived parts of Trump's 6 March executive order that had been blocked by lower courts. The highest court let the ban go forward with a limited scope, saying that it cannot apply to anyone with credible "bona fide relationship" with a US person or entity.
Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team