Afghan schoolgirls finally get US visas to attend robotics competition

Afghanistan is not part of US President Donald Trump's order to temporarily ban travel from six Muslim-majority countries.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

The six girls from Herat were blocked from attending the robotics competition even after two rounds of interviews for a one-week visa.

A team of Afghan schoolgirls who had been denied visas to attend a Washington robotics competition have now been cleared to travel to the United States, organisers said on Wednesday. 

US authorities had originally denied access to schoolchildren from a number of Muslim-majority nations to participate in the science competition, decisions that followed implementation of stricter visa policies under President Donald Trump.

But following public outcry over the Afghan girls' inability to attend the event, the US president urged authorities to reverse course, according to local media.

"I am most grateful to the US Government and its State Department for ensuring Afghanistan, as well as Gambia, would be able to join us for this international competition this year," said the president of the First Global organisation, Joe Sestak, who noted that teams from Yemen, Libya and Morocco would also attend.

"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.

"I could not be more proud."

The six girls from Herat, Afghanistan reportedly were blocked from attending the robotics competition even after two rounds of interviews for a one-week visa.

The visa rejections appeared to contradict the administration's claim that it wants to empower women globally.

When the reversal was announced, Trump adviser and daughter Ivanka Trump tweeted, "I look forward to welcoming this brilliant team of Afghan girls, and their competitors, to Washington DC next week!"

The July 16 to 18 competition aims to build interest and confidence in engineering and technology in schools worldwide.

A limited version of Trump's travel ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen recently took effect, after the US Supreme Court allowed it to be enforced pending a full hearing in October. 

Travellers from Afghanistan and The Gambia are unaffected by that measure.


TRTWorld and agencies