Stu­dents kept out

US de­nies visas twice to Afghan girls hop­ing to at­tend ro­bot con­test

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

KABUL — Six fe­male stu­dents from war-torn Afghanistan who had hoped to par­tic­i­pate in an in­ter­na­tional ro­bot­ics com­pe­ti­tion in the United States this month will have to watch via video link af­ter their visa ap­pli­ca­tions were de­nied twice.

The girls wanted to show the world that Afghans can also con­struct a hand­made ro­bot. But of 162 teams who planned to par­tic­i­pate, the Afghan girls are the only na­tion’s team to be de­nied visas by the US and will in­stead watch from their home­town in western Afghanistan.

“When we heard that we were re­jected we lost hope,” said 14-year-old Su­maya Fa­rooqi. “We ap­plied again for the US visa and we were re­jected again.”

Fa­rooqi and her team­mates had al­ready faced seem­ingly in­sur­mount­able ob­sta­cles to even get to a point where they could seek per­mis­sion to at­tend. It took them six months to pre­pare, of­ten work­ing seven days a week, as they con­structed a ro­bot that sorts balls, has the abil­ity to rec­og­nize or­ange and blue col­ors and can move ob­jects to put them in their cor­rect places.

The girls trav­eled from their homes in Herat af­ter con­vinc­ing fam­ily mem­bers to let them go, no small feat in a coun­try where young girls are of­ten dis­cour­aged from pur­su­ing aca­demic study, es­pe­cially in hard sci­ences such as math.

They made the 800-kilo­me­ter jour­ney to the US Em­bassy in Kabul twice be­cause their ap­pli­ca­tions were de­nied a first time, even though that lo­ca­tion was tar­geted by a deadly truck bomb on May 31 in which more 150 peo­ple were killed and more than 400 oth­ers wounded.

Afghanistan is not part of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s or­der to tem­po­rar­ily ban travel from six Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries. Yet teams from Syria, Iran and Su­dan, who are on that list, were granted visas to com­pete.

The US State De­part­ment de­clined to com­ment on why the Afghan team’s visa ap­pli­ca­tions were de­nied, say­ing “all visa ap­pli­ca­tions are ad­ju­di­cated on a case-by­case ba­sis in ac­cor­dance with US law”.

Al­though the girls were de­nied en­try into the coun­try, their ro­bot was al­lowed in.

AH­MAD SEIR / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Teenagers from the Afghanistan Ro­botic House, a pri­vate train­ing in­sti­tute, prac­tice on Thurs­day in Herat, Afghanistan.

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