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Girls & Women

Afghan Girls’ Robotics Team Will Get to Compete in the US After All

An all-girl team of budding scientists and engineers from Afghanistan has finally been granted visas to come to the US for an international robotics competition. 

The girls were chosen to compete alongside 156 other countries in an annual “Olympics-style” robotics competition organized by a non-profit called First Global in Washington, DC. 

However, the group was denied entry into the US after two rounds of interviews earlier this year as part of the travel ban enacted by President Donald Trump. 

Other students for the competition from Sudan, Iran, and Syria, (also part of  the ban) were granted visas, but girls from Afghanistan and Gambia were originally denied, the BBC reports.  

The State Department did not say why the girls’ visas were denied at first, but did tell Al Jazeera that each application is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. 

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Sumaya Farooqi, Fatema Ghaderyan, Lida Azizi, Rodaba Noori, Fatima Qadiryan, and Alireza Mehraban had spent six months preparing their robot for the competition when they found out their visa applications were denied, according to the Associated Press

“When we heard that we were rejected we lost hope," Sumaya Farooqi, 14, told the Associated Press

Still, the girls persisted — and applied again. They travelled 500 miles from their home, Herat, to the US Embassy in Kabul to apply a second time, they told the Associated Press

"Afghanistan is a country at war and doesn't have a lot of resources at hand," Fatima Qadiryan, 14, told Al Jazeera. "Other countries should consider this, they shouldn't be so strict with us."

Sadly, they were rejected again and settled on a plan to participate in the engineering competition via Skype. 

Then, US President Donald Trump reversed the decision. 

According to a White House official who spoke to Al Jazeera, Trump overheard at the G20 conference that the girls had been denied entry and urged the State Department to look into additional options to admit the girls.  

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The State Department then reportedly found a loophole. The girls were granted a “parole” exception, which can be granted in cases of humanitarian or emergency events, or in this case, for “significant public benefit.” This allows them to come to the US for 10 days, according to the BBC.  

“All 163 teams from 157 countries have gained approval to the United States, including Iran, Sudan, and a team of Syrian refugees," Joe Sestak,  former US Senator and current  president of First Global, said in a statement. "I could not be more proud."

Now, the girls will be able to show off their robotic design at the competition which runs from July 16 to July 19.

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"It's my dream to develop robots," Qadiryan told the Associated Press. "I want to say thank you to the U.S. officials and to the U.S. president who helped us."

The girls’ robot can distinguish between colored balls (orange and blue) and place them in designated locations, they told the Associated Press. 

"We were not a terrorist group to go to America and scare people," Fatema Ghaderyan, 14, told the AFP news agency, according to the BBC. "We just wanted to show the power and skills of Afghan girls to Americans."