Denied US visas, all-girl Afghan robotics team to watch their creation compete via Skype

HERAT, Afghanistan, July 4 (Reuters) - Two Afghan girls refused visas to the United States for a robot-building competition said on Tuesday they were mystified by the decision, as the contest's organizers said teams from Iran and Sudan as well as a de facto Syrian team had gained visas.

The unusual story of the Afghan all-girl team of robotics students emerged as the United States grapples with the legality of President Donald Trump's order to temporarily ban travel from six Muslim-majority countries.

Afghanistan itself is not on the list and Team Afghanistan's robot, unlike its creators, has been allowed entry to the United States. Asked by Reuters on Tuesday why the girls were banned, a U.S. State Department spokesperson cited regulations prohibiting the agency from discussing individual visa cases.

So the six team members will watch the ball-sorting machine compete in Washington D.C. via video link during the July 16-18 event from their hometown of Herat, in western Afghanistan, according to the FIRST Global contest organizers.

"We still don't know the reason why we were not granted visas, because other countries participating in the competition have been given visas," said 14-year-old Fatemah Qaderyan, part of the team that made two journeys to the U.S. Embassy in the Afghan capital Kabul to apply for their papers.AFGHANISTAN-USA/TRAVELBAN

Above: Members of Afghan robotics girls team which was denied entry into the United States for a competition, work on their robots in Herat province, Afghanistan July 4, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Shoib

"No one knows about the future but ... we did our best and we hope that our robot could get a position along other robots from other countries," Qaderyan said.

Most of the female team members were either infants or not yet born at the time of the U.S.-backed military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 that toppled the Taliban regime – whose ultra-hardline interpretation of sharia (Islamic law) banned girls from school, women from working outside the home and all females from leaving home without a male relative.

More than 15 years later, around 10,000 U.S. and allied international troops remain in Afghanistan to support an elected government in Kabul that constitutionally guarantees women's rights but is increasingly losing ground to a Taliban insurgency that now controls or contests some 40 percent of territory.

AFGHANISTAN-USA/TRAVELBAN

Reuters

"CLEAR INSULT"

Qaderyan's teammate from Herat, 17-year-old Lida Azizi, was less forgiving of the U.S. visa decision. "All of the countries can participate in the competitions, but we can't. So it's a clear insult for the people of Afghanistan," Azizi said.

FIRST Global's president, Joe Sestak, said in a post on the organization's Facebook page that he was "saddened" by the U.S. decision but the Afghan team would be able to connect with the competition via a live Skype video link.

"That is how we must now honor our fellow teammates, those brave girls from Afghanistan," he said.

He added that the teams of 156 countries – including from Iran and Sudan, which are on Trump's list of countries whose citizens are banned from entry – had received their visas.

"The support of the U.S. State Department (including its embassies) has been simply nothing short of amazing," Sestak said in the post, adding that one other team, from Gambia, had been also denied visas.

Also approved for visas was "Team Hope," a group of Syrian refugees, he said.

Syria is among the Muslim-majority countries named in Trump's executive order prohibiting all citizens from entry for 90 days. The other countries, apart from Iran, Syria and Sudan, are Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

In a June 26 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court revived parts of Trump's March 6 executive order that had been blocked by lower courts. The highest court let the ban go forward with a limited scope, saying that it cannot apply to anyone with credible "bona fide relationship" with a U.S. person or entity.

(Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington; writing by Kay Johnson; editing by Mark Heinrich)

RELATED: Meet Afghanistan's first female pilot

16 PHOTOS
Afghanistan's first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani
See Gallery
Afghanistan's first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani

In a picture taken on April 26, 2015, Afghanistan's first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani, 23, sits in a fixed-wing Afghan Air Force aviator aircraft in Kabul. With a hint of swagger in her gait, Afghanistan's first female pilot since the ouster of the Taliban is defying death threats and archaic gender stereotypes to infiltrate an almost entirely male preserve.

(SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

In a picture taken on April 26, 2015, Afghanistan's first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani, 23, climbs into a fixed-wing Afghan Air Force aviator aircraft in Kabul. With a hint of swagger in her gait, Afghanistan's first female pilot since the ouster of the Taliban is defying death threats and archaic gender stereotypes to infiltrate an almost entirely male preserve.

(SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

In a picture taken on April 26, 2015, Afghanistan's first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani, 23, poses for a photograph at an Air Force airfield in Kabul. With a hint of swagger in her gait, Afghanistan's first female pilot since the ouster of the Taliban is defying death threats and archaic gender stereotypes to infiltrate an almost entirely male preserve.

(SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

In a picture taken on April 26, 2015, Afghanistan's first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani, 23, talks with colleagues at an airfield in Kabul. With a hint of swagger in her gait, Afghanistan's first female pilot since the ouster of the Taliban is defying death threats and archaic gender stereotypes to infiltrate an almost entirely male preserve.

(SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

In a picture taken on April 26, 2015, Afghanistan's first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani, 23, poses for a photograph at an Air Force airfield in Kabul. With a hint of swagger in her gait, Afghanistan's first female pilot since the ouster of the Taliban is defying death threats and archaic gender stereotypes to infiltrate an almost entirely male preserve.

(SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

In a picture taken on April 26, 2015, Afghanistan's first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani, 23, examines a fixed-wing Afghan Air Force aviator aircraft in Kabul. With a hint of swagger in her gait, Afghanistan's first female pilot since the ouster of the Taliban is defying death threats and archaic gender stereotypes to infiltrate an almost entirely male preserve.

(SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

In a picture taken on April 26, 2015, Afghanistan's first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani, 23, sits in a fixed-wing Afghan Air Force aviator aircraft in Kabul. With a hint of swagger in her gait, Afghanistan's first female pilot since the ouster of the Taliban is defying death threats and archaic gender stereotypes to infiltrate an almost entirely male preserve.

(SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

In a picture taken on April 26, 2015, Afghanistan's first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani, 23, poses for a photograph at an Air Force airfield in Kabul. With a hint of swagger in her gait, Afghanistan's first female pilot since the ouster of the Taliban is defying death threats and archaic gender stereotypes to infiltrate an almost entirely male preserve.

(SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

In a picture taken on April 26, 2015, Afghanistan's first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani, 23, sits in a fixed-wing Afghan Air Force aviator aircraft in Kabul. With a hint of swagger in her gait, Afghanistan's first female pilot since the ouster of the Taliban is defying death threats and archaic gender stereotypes to infiltrate an almost entirely male preserve.

(SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

In a picture taken on April 26, 2015, Afghanistan's first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani, 23, looks on as she talks with colleagues at an airfield in Kabul. With a hint of swagger in her gait, Afghanistan's first female pilot since the ouster of the Taliban is defying death threats and archaic gender stereotypes to infiltrate an almost entirely male preserve.

(SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

In a picture taken on April 26, 2015, Afghanistan's first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani, 23, leaves her office at an Air Force airfield in Kabul. With a hint of swagger in her gait, Afghanistan's first female pilot since the ouster of the Taliban is defying death threats and archaic gender stereotypes to infiltrate an almost entirely male preserve.

(SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

In a picture taken on April 26, 2015, Afghanistan's first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani, 23, sits inside a fixed-wing Afghan Air Force aviator aircraft in Kabul. With a hint of swagger in her gait, Afghanistan's first female pilot since the ouster of the Taliban is defying death threats and archaic gender stereotypes to infiltrate an almost entirely male preserve.

(SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

In a picture taken on April 26, 2015, Afghanistan's first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani, 23, examines a fixed-wing Afghan Air Force aviator aircraft in Kabul. With a hint of swagger in her gait, Afghanistan's first female pilot since the ouster of the Taliban is defying death threats and archaic gender stereotypes to infiltrate an almost entirely male preserve.

(SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

In a picture taken on April 26, 2015, Afghanistan's first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani, 23, exits a fixed-wing Afghan Air Force aviator aircraft in Kabul. With a hint of swagger in her gait, Afghanistan's first female pilot since the ouster of the Taliban is defying death threats and archaic gender stereotypes to infiltrate an almost entirely male preserve.

(SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

In a picture taken on April 26, 2015, Afghanistan's first female pilot Niloofar Rahmani, 23, poses for a photograph alongside a fixed-wing Afghan Air Force aviator aircraft in Kabul. With a hint of swagger in her gait, Afghanistan's first female pilot since the ouster of the Taliban is defying death threats and archaic gender stereotypes to infiltrate an almost entirely male preserve.

(SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.