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Afghan girls robotics team land in US after visa U-turn

WASHINGTON: A team of Afghan girls who were earlier denied visas to attend a Washington robotics competition landed in the United States early Saturday following an intervention by US President Donald Trump.

The six-member team were greeted at Dulles International Airport by a throng of supporters, including Afghan ambassador Hamdullah Mohib and acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Alice G Wells, and were presented with bouquets.

They are due to take part FIRST Global Challenge — a three-day international robotics competition that aims to promote science and technology among youths worldwide that begins Monday.

“Our acting special rep to #Afghanistan/#Pakistan welcomes #AfghanRoboticsTeam to USA! Go girls!,” tweeted State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

US authorities had originally refused access to schoolchildren from a number of Muslim-majority nations to participate in the science contest, decisions that followed implementation of stricter visa policies under Trump.

But the US president urged a reversal following public outcry over the Afghan girls’ inability to attend the event. The reversal was announced on Wednesday.

The competition’s organizers noted that 163 teams from around the world had gained visa approval, including other Muslim-majority nations like Yemen, Libya, Morocco, as well as Gambia, which was also previously barred.

Read More: Afghans who helped US forces may get more visas under defense bill

The six girls from Herat, Afghanistan, were reportedly blocked from attending the robotics competition even after two rounds of interviews for a one-week visa.

The rejections appeared to contradict the administration’s claim it wants to empower women globally.

“We were not a terrorist group to go to America and scare people,” 14-year-old competitor Fatema Qaderyan told AFP before the reversal.

“We just wanted to show the power and skills of Afghan girls to Americans.”

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