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All-Girl Afghan Robotics Team is Finally Allowed to Compete

The all-girl Afghan robotics team will now be allowed to travel to the United States to compete in the upcoming FIRST Global Challenge, after a personal intervention by Donald Trump himself. The team’s manager, Alireza Mehraban, said that the girls will receive parole status, which overrides the State Department’s earlier decision to deny the girls’ applications for US visas – on two separate occasions.

“Parole,” which is granted by the Department of Homeland Security, grants a person temporary entry into the country for what a spokesman called “significant public benefit.”

The girls were required to travel 500 miles for an interview both times that their visas were up for approval. They went from Herat to Kabul, a city where hundreds have recently died from suicide bombings.

Afghanistan isn’t on the list of countries affected by Trump’s travel ban, so why the State Department decided to deny the girls’ applications is still unclear. In a statement to the Associated Press on Wednesday addressing the Department’s decision, a spokesman for the agency said that “all visa applications are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis in accordance with U.S. law.”

US visas are often denied on suspicions that those arriving to the US will stay past their allotted time. Addressing these concerns, 16-year-old Rodaba Noori said of Afghanistan, “This is our country. We have our life and family here.”

The girls also handed in written guarantees from two government employees that vouched for their returns to Afghanistan.

It is true, however, that some Afghans remain permanently in the countries that award them their temporary visas. Elham Shaheen, a senior official at the Ministry of Higher Education, said that the number is about 10 percent of all Afghans who receive visas for academic purposes.

A Forbes article addressing the State Department’s initial denial states that getting a travel visa from Afghanistan is tricky for almost everyone. State Department records show that the country gave out only 32 of the visas that the girls were trying for in April 2017. In comparison, Baghdad gave 138 of the same visa in the same month, and Pakistan gave 1,492.

The girls didn’t give up and continued to work on their robot even after they were denied their visas, as they planned to participate in the event via video call. This wasn’t the first problem they had endured in the robot’s creation. Fears that ISIS would use robotics against their enemies held up the girls’ robot’s raw materials in customs for months, forcing the innovative competitors to use homemade materials while they waited.

In Washington, DC, the girls will also be joining members of a robotics team from Gambia, who were also recently allowed temporary entry for the competition.

Teams from Syria, Iran, and Sudan will also be attending the event, despite the fact they are all countries affected by the President’s travel ban.

Featured Image by Christopher Schmidt on Flickr
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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