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Afghan girls robotics team lands in US after Trump intervention

July 16, 2017
This July 13 photo shows girls from the Afghanistan Robotic House taking a selfie at Herat International Airport before embarking for the United States.—AFP
This July 13 photo shows girls from the Afghanistan Robotic House taking a selfie at Herat International Airport before embarking for the United States.—AFP

WASHINGTON: A team of Afghan girls who were earlier denied visas to attend a Washington robotics competition landed in the United States early on Saturday following an intervention by US President Donald Trump.

The six-member team were greeted at Dulles International Airport by a throng of supporters, including Afghan ambassador Hamdullah Mohib and acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Alice G Wells, and were presented with bouquets.

They are due to take part FIRST Global Challenge — a three-day international robotics competition that aims to promote science and technology among youths worldwide that begins on Monday.

“Our acting special rep to #Afghanistan/#Pakistan welcomes #AfghanRoboticsTeam to USA! Go girls!,” tweeted State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

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

But the US president urged a reversal following public outcry over the Afghan girls’ inability to attend the event. The reversal was announced on Wednesday.

The competition’s organisers noted that 163 teams from around the world had gained visa approval, including other Muslim-majority nations like Yemen, Libya, Morocco, as well as Gambia, which was also previously barred.

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

The rejections appeared to contradict the administration’s claim it wants to empower women globally.

“We were not a terrorist group to go to America and scare people,” 14-year-old competitor Fatema Qaderyan said before the reversal.

“We just wanted to show the power and skills of Afghan girls to Americans.”

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2017