Afghan girls allowed US entry to attend robotics competition after public outcry

An all-girl Afghan robotics team arrived at Kabul airport on Thursday to receive their US visas and head to the 'FIRST Global Challenge' robotics competition in Washington DC after having been twice denied entry to the United States.
Members of the Afghan team denied entry to the US for a robotics competition will be getting their visas after all.
Members of the Afghan team denied entry to the US for a robotics competition will be getting their visas after all.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A team of Afghan girls denied visas to attend a Washington robotics competition has now been allowed entry, organisers said on Wednesday (July 12).

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

But following public outcry over the Afghan girls' inability to attend the event, Mr Trump urged the authorities to reverse course, according to US 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, Mr 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 Mr 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, Mr Trump's adviser and daughter Ivanka tweeted: "I look forward to welcoming this brilliant team of Afghan girls, and their competitors, to Washington DC next week!"

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

Meanwhile, in March, every single African due to attend the African Global Economic and Development Summit, a trade conference in California, had their visa request rejected, according to organisers.

A limited version of Mr Trump's travel ban - temporarily barring 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 Gambia are unaffected by that measure.