De­nied US visas, all-girl Afghan robotics team to watch via Skype Their robot was granted en­try to US for com­pe­ti­tion

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

HERAT:

Two Afghan girls re­fused visas to the United States for a robot-build­ing com­pe­ti­tion said yes­ter­day 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 had gained visas. The un­usual story of the Afghan all-girl team of robotics stu­dents emerged as the United States grap­ples with the le­gal­ity of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s or­der to tem­po­rar­ily ban travel from six Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries.

Afghanistan it­self is not on the list and Team Afghanistan’s robot, un­like its cre­ators, has been al­lowed en­try to the United States. Asked by Reuters on Tues­day why the girls were banned, a U.S. State De­part­ment spokesper­son cited reg­u­la­tions pro­hibit­ing the agency from dis­cussing in­di­vid­ual visa cases. So the six team mem­bers will watch the ball-sort­ing ma­chine com­pete in Wash­ing­ton D.C. via video link dur­ing the July 16-18 event from their home­town of Herat, in western Afghanistan, ac­cord­ing to the FIRST Global con­test or­ga­niz­ers.

“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. “No one knows about the fu­ture but ... we did our best and we hope that our robot could get a po­si­tion along other ro­bots from other coun­tries,” Qaderyan said.

Most of the fe­male team mem­bers were ei­ther in­fants or not yet born at the time of the US-backed mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in Afghanistan in 2001 that top­pled the Tal­iban regime - whose ul­tra-hard­line in­ter­pre­ta­tion of sharia (Is­lamic law) banned girls from school, women from work­ing out­side the home and all fe­males from leav­ing home with­out a male rel­a­tive. More than 15 years later, around 10,000 US and al­lied in­ter­na­tional troops re­main in Afghanistan to sup­port an elected gov­ern­ment in Kabul that con­sti­tu­tion­ally guar­an­tees women’s rights but is in­creas­ingly los­ing ground to a Tal­iban in­sur­gency that now con­trols or con­tests some 40 per­cent of ter­ri­tory.

Clear in­sult

Qaderyan’s team­mate from Herat, 17-year-old Lida Az­izi, was less for­giv­ing of the US visa de­ci­sion. “All of the coun­tries can par­tic­i­pate in the com­pe­ti­tions, but we can’t. So it’s a clear in­sult for the peo­ple of Afghanistan,” Az­izi said. FIRST Global’s pres­i­dent, Joe Ses­tak, said in a post on the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s Face­book page that he was “sad­dened” by the US de­ci­sion but the Afghan team would be able to con­nect with the com­pe­ti­tion via a live Skype video link. “That is how we must now honor our fel­low team­mates, those brave girls from Afghanistan,” he said. He added that the teams of 156 coun­tries in­clud­ing from Iran and Su­dan, which are on Trump’s list of coun­tries whose cit­i­zens are banned from en­try - had re­ceived their visas. “The sup­port of the S. State De­part­ment (in­clud­ing its em­bassies) has been sim­ply noth­ing short of amaz­ing,” Ses­tak said in the post, adding that one other team, from Gam­bia, had been also de­nied visas.

Also ap­proved for visas was “Team Hope,” a group of Syr­ian refugees, he said. Syria is among the Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries named in Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der pro­hibit­ing all cit­i­zens from en­try for 90 days. The other coun­tries, apart from Iran, Syria and Su­dan, are Libya, So­ma­lia and Ye­men. In a June 26 rul­ing, the US Supreme Court re­vived parts of Trump’s March 6 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. —Reuters

BALKH PROV­INCE: An Afghan woman col­lects wa­ter from a hand pump in Mazar-i-Sharif in Ghazni prov­ince. —AFP

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