UPDATE: Public pressure, it seems, often works.
After several news organizations reported that an all-girl group from Afghanistan competing in the FIRST Global Challenge had been denied entry visas to the United States, many people on social media denounced the U.S. government's actions.
Now, two attempts later, the six-girl team has finally been allowed to travel to the country.
While the U.S. State Department did not disclose why it had denied the visas in the first place, The Associated Press reports that President Donald Trump personally intervened to ensure the girls would be able to enter the country in order to showcase their invention to the world in person.
As a result, the National Security Council "paroled" the girls, meaning that the Afghan students were allowed to obtain visas over "an urgent humanitarian reason or significant public benefit."
According to Reuters, Fatemah Qaderyan, 14, one of the members of the all-girl Afghan robotics team, said that while they had been heartbroken until recently, they are now ready to put that chapter behind them.
"We were disappointed, and we were feeling bad, but now we are very happy that they have given us a chance to go," she said as they arrived in Kabul with bags ready for their Washington, D.C., trip.
It's truly heartwarming to see these girls being allowed in the country, and we sure hope that public pressure will continue to work in similar cases.
They were readying to participate in the robotics competition FIRST Global Challenge, which is taking place in Washington, D.C., and they said they were excited to meet with countless inventors from all over the world in mid-July when they heard the heartbreaking news, Forbes reports.
The six-girl team comes from Herat, a city located in western Afghanistan that houses half a million people. They traveled 500 miles across the country, putting their lives at risk, just to interview for the visas in the Kabul embassy.
After making the trip to the capital twice and ignoring that several recent suicide attacks in the region had killed several people, the teenagers were hopeful they would be able to obtain the seven-day visas. Unfortunately, the United States government wasn't sympathetic.
To Roya Mahboob, who founded Afghanistan's Citadel software company and who was the country's first female tech CEO, the United States' refusal to give these girls visas is a frustrating development.
As the person who brought the girls together for this robotics project, Mahboob said she feels the whole country is being let down.
“It's a very important message for our people,” Mahboob said. “Robotics is very, very new in Afghanistan.”
When the girls first heard their visa requests had been denied, Mahboob was with them. She said “they were crying all the day.”
Furthermore, while the girls cannot be at the competition in July, their robot can make the journey.
Competing against 163 machines designed by teams from all over the world, the girls are at least excited that their work will be showcased. But before the long trip, they must screw the last joints and make sure the sensors are all programmed.
The girls, who worked really hard on this project, even had a hard time putting their robot together as many of their materials were held up in customs for months. According to Afghan officials, that was due their fear ISIS militants would use robotics while on the battlefield. Thankfully, they got the pieces just in time.
During the event in July, the girls will be allowed to video conference for a brief moment so they may see their machine in action.
What must be tougher for the six Afghan teens isn't just that they won't be there when their creation is put into action, but the fact that teams from Iraq, Iran, and Sudan were all allowed to be present for the event. Meanwhile, the Afghan girls got nothing but their hopes crushed.
So far, the State Department has not commented on this case. Still, Afghans are rarely successful in obtaining business travel visas to America. While Iraq issued 138 and Pakistan issued 1,492 similar visas in the month of April alone, Afghanistan was only able to give 32 of them to travelers heading to America during the same period.
It's such a shame. It's almost as if the Trump administration thinks a bunch of Afghan girls who are good at robotics are a threat to America.