The US State Department Is Keeping This All-Girl Robotics Team From Afghanistan Away From Their Competition

by Hannah Rose

All all-girl robotics team from Afghanistan was denied the one-week travel visa necessary to attend the FIRST Global Challenge — an international robotics competition in Washington, DC scheduled for mid-July — leaving the girls feeling disappointed, excluded, and confused. The girls have experienced multiple obstacles while attempting to participate, including a late start constructing their ball-sorting machine due to their raw materials being held up in customs for months (resulting from concern over ISIS’s use of robots on the battlefield) and traveling 500 miles to the American Embassy in Kabul (a dangerous site of multiple recent terrorist attacks) to interview for the visas . . . twice (they were denied the first time as well).

Relations with Afghanistan are tense – in 2001, after 9/11, the United States invaded Afghanistan to dismount the extremist Taliban regime and have remained there since, struggling to support the elected government against growing Taliban insurgency. But despite Afghanistan’s tumultuous relationship with the United States, it is not one of the 6 Muslim-majority countries on Trump’s travel ban, and robots teams from Iran, Sudan, and Syria are reported to have gained visas for the competition. These inconsistencies further contribute to confusion about the girls’ denial, which comes at a time when a heated debate about immigration policies exists within the United States and within our administration, with conflict escalating after Trump’s executive orders that attempt to deny (certain) immigrants’ entrance to the United States.

Although the teenage girls were denied entry, their robot has been cleared to enter and will still be competing in the contest. Reuters asked the US State Department to expand upon the decision Tuesday, but a spokesperson declined to give a reason, citing regulations that prohibit the agency from commenting on individual visa cases. Constestants from Gambia, the largely-Muslim West African country, were also denied travel visas for the contest without explanation. Joe Sestak, the president of FIRST Global, said in a Facebook post that he was “saddened” by the US’s decision but that the contest will make sure to include the “extraordinarily brave young women” from Afghanistan and team members from Gambia via Skype. Anyone who has had to FaceTime a long-distance friend/boo or Skype into a work meeting knows that shit is just not the same as experiencing the real thing. So imagine being forced to watch one of your proudest moments, something you’ve been working on for months, from more than 7,000 miles away, which is what these girls will be doing from their hometown of Herat, Afghanistan on competition day. According to Forbes, 14-year-old Fatemah Qaderyan, a member of the Afghan all-girl robotics team, said of the decision, “We want to show the world we can do it, we just need a chance.” 

Photo: Team Afghanistan, First Global 


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