Later this month, Washington D.C. will host the inaugural FIRST Global Challenge, an international robotics competition where teens from over 100 countries compete in order to raise enthusiasm for STEM education. However, this year’s competition will be marred by the fact that the all-girls team from Afghanistan will not be in attendance in the nation’s capitol as their visas were denied by the incredible shrinking State Department.
According to the Washington Post, there might not be a nefarious reason behind the denial. It’s just extremely difficult to conduct business travel from Afghanistan, which, it should be noted, is not one of the countries targeted by President Trump’s travel ban:
The State Department does not comment on specific visa denials. According to recent State Department records, it’s particularly hard to get a business travel visa from Afghanistan. Just 112 were granted in May 2017; 780 visas were issued to visitors from Iraq and 4,067 from Pakistan.
Teams from Iran and Sudan, which are on the list of six countries included in the travel ban, will be competing at the event.
The girls’ story is filled with set-back after set-back. Their materials for the competition that each team received were delayed for months by U.S. customs because of terrorism concerns leaving them with no choice but to built different machines from household materials in order to practice. After convincing their parents to let them participate, the team twice made the 500-mile trip to the U.S. embassy in Kabul to apply for their visas, even after the embassy was targeted by a truck bombing.
Nevertheless, the system persisted and the girls’ visas were denied. When they learned the news, “they were crying all the day,” according to Roya Mahboob, the team’s sponsor and Afghanistan’s first female chief executive in tech. “They’re young and they were very upset.”
One of the members of the team, Fatemah, who is 14, told Forbes, “We want to show the world we can do it; we just need a chance.”
According to former congressman Joe Sestak, who is the president of FIRST Global, the girls will be able to watch the competition of Skype.
(via Washington Post)