Afghan Girls Robotics Team Denied Entry into U.S.

A red stamp of the word "denied."

Image credit: Shutterstock

The FIRST Global Challenge is a landmark event for budding young engineers worldwide. Held in Washington D.C., this new international robotics challenge invites teams from more than 150 nations to compete. All of the high-school-aged competitors will get the chance to bounce ideas off their peers from around the globe, building bridges in science that will strengthen their future careers. The competition encourages students to explore robotic applications for medicine, environmental stewardship, and energy efficiency.

At least, that’s the intention of FIRST Global, the nonprofit STEM charity organizing the competition. But there’s red tape in the way that some competitors struggle with.

An Afghan girls team aiming for the competition thought they’d accomplished the hard part when they raised nearly $200 each for their visa applications, and thousands more for their travel and stay expenses. But when they traveled to the U.S. embassy in Kabul, the entire team was turned down for their travel visas. They weren’t given a reason.

Neither was a Gambian team that was also denied a few days later. Both teams were offered the chance to participate via Skype, but that could hardly hold a candle to the benefits of going in person.

Neither Afghanistan or Gambia are on the U.S. President’s contested travel ban, for the record. Visas were granted to teams from at least three nations which are: Iran, Sudan, and Syria.

With only days to go before the competition, the Gambian team was awarded last-minute visas after press coverage of their denial went viral on Twitter and Facebook. But their faculty adviser, science ministry director Mucktarr Darboe, will not be allowed to attend. He says he was denied because the U.S. is not currently granting visas to Gambian government officials. No such policy has been confirmed by a U.S. embassy.

The FIRST Global Challenge will take place from July 16-18. The Afghan girls team will still have to attend remotely.

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