U.S. denies visa for all-girl robotics team from Afghanistan

Six female teenage inventors have reportedly been denied a visa to travel from Afghanistan to the US to participate in the First Global Challenge robotics competition and will have to watch their creation compete from afar when the event takes place later on this month.

The event, which according to Forbes is scheduled to take place in Washington DC in mid-July, will bring together more than 160 international teams and pit them against each other in what organizers have called “the world’s first international robot Olympics for high school students.”

However, as The Verge noted on Saturday, the team representing Afghanistan has been denied permission to enter the US to compete in the competition after previously having a construction kit shipped to them by competition organizers held in customs for several months over fears that terrorists might use some of the hardware, motors, and servos to create explosives.

According to reports from both media outlets, once the girls did receive their build kit, they were able to create a ball sorting robot in just three weeks. That robot will be allowed to compete, but after having to travel 500 miles from their homes in Herat to Kabul for their visa interviews only to be denied entry into the country, the girls will be forced to watch via video conferencing.

Team advisor Roya Mahboob, founder of Citadel software in Afghanistan and that country’s first female tech CEO, told Forbes that the girls “were crying all the day” when they first learned that they would not be allowed to travel to DC. FIRST Global President Joe Sestak added that he was disappointed that these “extraordinarily brave young women” had been denied visas.

Team emphasizes the importance of participating in the event

The female inventors had been looking to join their colleagues from around the world, but to do so, they had to travel 500 miles from Herat, a city in western Afghanistan, to Kabul, which is the site of the American Embassy and the location of several recent terrorist attacks, said Forbes.

Despite the length of the journey and the risk involved, the students made the journey not once but twice, hoping that the second set of interviews might help them secure seven-day passes to the US, the news outlet added. However, they ultimately were unsuccessful, and will not be looking on from more than 7,000 miles away, hoping that their machine can pull out a victory.

They are one of just two teams to be denied entry into the US for the competition, according to reports – the other hails from Gambia. Ninety-five percent of the FIRST Global teams will be in Washington for the event, including those representing Iran, Iraq and the Sudan.

Entering the competition was “a very important message for our people” Mahboob explained in an interview with Forbes, adding that robotics “is very, very new in Afghanistan.” Fourteen-year-old team member Fatemah added that she enjoyed working with robots and the feeling of making something new and that she and her colleagues “want to show the world we can do it, we just need a chance.”


Image credit: First Global