Afghan girls ro­bot­ics team ar­rives in US just in time

Kuwait Times - - BUSI­NESS -

WASH­ING­TON: Twice re­jected for US visas, an all-girls ro­bot­ics team from Afghanistan ar­rived in Wash­ing­ton early Satur­day af­ter an ex­tra­or­di­nary, last-minute in­ter­ven­tion by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. The six-girl team and their chap­er­one com­pleted their jour­ney just af­ter mid­night from their home­town of Herat, Afghanistan, to en­ter their ball-sort­ing ro­bot in the three-day high school com­pe­ti­tion start­ing Sun­day in the US cap­i­tal.

Await­ing them at the gate at Wash­ing­ton Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port were a In the short time since their visa dilemma drew global at­ten­tion, the girls’ case has be­come a flash­point in the de­bate about Trump’s ef­forts to tighten en­trance to the US, in­clud­ing from many ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim coun­tries. Afghanistan isn’t in­cluded in Trump’s tem­po­rary travel ban, but crit­ics have said the ban is em­blem­atic of a broader ef­fort to put a chill on Mus­lims en­ter­ing the US. The girls’ story has also re­newed the fo­cus on the longer-term US plans for aid­ing Afghanistan’s fu­ture, as Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion pre­pares a new mil­i­tary strat­egy that will in­clude send­ing more troops to the coun­try where the US has been fight­ing since 2001.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis said Fri­day the strat­egy was mov­ing for­ward but “not fi­nal­ized yet.” Trump’s per­sonal in­ter­ven­tion ear­lier in the week us­ing a rare “pa­role” mech­a­nism to side­step the visa sys­tem ended a dra­matic saga in which the team twice trav­eled from their home in western Afghanistan through largely Tal­iban-con­trolled ter­ri­tory to Kabul, where their visa ap­pli­ca­tions were de­nied twice. The US won’t say why the girls were re­jected for visas, cit­ing con­fi­den­tial­ity.

But Mo­hib said that based on dis­cus­sions with US of­fi­cials, it ap­pears the girls were re­buffed due to con­cerns they would not re­turn to Afghanistan. It’s a fate that has be­set many Afghans seek­ing en­try to the US in re­cent years as con­tin­u­ing vi­o­lence and eco­nomic chal­lenges lead many to seek asy­lum in Amer­ica, or to travel through the US to Canada to try to re­set­tle there. As their case gained at­ten­tion, Trump in­ter­vened by ask­ing Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil of­fi­cials to find a way for them to travel, of­fi­cials said.

Ul­ti­mately the State De­part­ment, which ad­ju­di­cates visa ap­pli­ca­tions, asked the Home­land Se­cu­rity De­part­ment to let them in on “pa­role,” a tem­po­rary sta­tus used only in ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances to let in some­one who is oth­er­wise in­el­i­gi­ble to en­ter the coun­try.

The US granted pa­role af­ter de­ter­min­ing that it con­sti­tuted a “sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic ben­e­fit.” Am­bas­sador Alice Wells, the act­ing US spe­cial en­voy for Afghanistan and Pak­istan, down­played con­cerns that the girls might use the pa­role to stay in the US or go to Canada.

As she drove to the air­port to greet the girls, she said by phone that they were proud to rep­re­sent Afghanistan and “proud to re­turn to be role mod­els to oth­ers around them.” —AP

KABUL: Mem­bers of a fe­male ro­bot­ics team from Herat prov­ince, leave Kabul to the US from Kabul Air­port, in Kabul, Afghanistan.—AP

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