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Afghan girls fly to USA for robotics fair

15 July 2017

The issue garnered a lot of backlash when it was first learned that six teenage girls had been denied USA visas to participate in next week's FIRST Global Challenge, an worldwide robotics competition in Washington, D.C., that will include participants from about 160 countries, according to Politico.

On Tuesday, U.S congressman Joe Courtney and congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici sent a letter signed by 53 members of the United States House of Representatives to the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to issue visas for the girls.

The six girls, who are from western Afghanistan, reportedly struggled through a lot of red tape in order to build a ball-sorting robot for the challenge.

However, the move sparked an global outcry and only after U.S President Donald Trump reportedly stepped in on Wednesday night (Kabul time) was the initial decision overturned and visas were ordered to be issued.

The girls will participate in the three-day competition starting Sunday in the USA capital.

"We were not a terrorist group to go to America and scare people", 14-year-old competitor Qaderyan told AFP in Herat before the U-turn.

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State Department officials do not comment on individual visa cases, but experts speculated that consular officers could have denied the visas out of concern that the girls could attempt to remain in the United States.

And when it came time to apply for their visas - which the girls did twice - they traveled hundreds of miles to Kabul, but were denied both times.

"We continued working on our robots to show that Afghan girls are capable of doing big things", Mehraban said.

"It's a happy moment for our team", Mehraban told the AP.

Afghanistan remains a deeply conservative nation and while girls are in school today, gaining rights for women and girls is still a struggle for many. Sestak credited "the professional leadership of the US State Department for grant of 163 teams from 157 countries, including a team of Syrian refugees".

Members of the Afghan robotics team on their arrival at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

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Their manager, Alireza Mehraban, piled their luggage and himself into a second taxicab, while at the airport workers and passengers wondered at the media attention the girls were receiving, unaware of their identities.

As reminded in the report, that isn't the case as the policy pertains to Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Gambia's team, which designed a robot to clean contaminated rivers, also faced visa problems but was permitted last week to travel to the U.S.

Team member Fatima Qadiryan, 14, was overjoyed to be going to the US for the competition.

"We have many plans for our future", she said.

All six girls packed into a small taxicab to head to the U.S. Embassy with their passports in hand to get their documentation for entry into the U.S.

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Afghan girls fly to USA for robotics fair