Members of Afghan robotics girls team which was denied entry into the United States for a competition, work on their robots in Herat province Thomson Reuters
HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Two Afghan girls refused visas to the United States for a robot-building competition said on Tuesday 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.
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.
“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 U.S. Embassy in the Afghan capital Kabul to apply for their papers.
Most of the female team members were either infants or not yet born at the time of the U.S.-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.
FIRST Global’s president, Joe Sestak, said in a post on the organization’s Facebook page that he was “saddened” by the U.S. decision but the Afghan team would be able to connect with the competition via a live Skype video link.
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.
Also approved for visas was “Team Hope,” a group of Syrian refugees, he said.
In a June 26 ruling, the U.S. 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 U.S. person or entity.