U.S congressmen Joe Courtney and Suzanne Bonamici on Tuesday sent a letter signed by 53 members of the United States House of Representatives to the U.S Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to issue U.S visas for six Afghan high school girls so they can represent their country at an international robotics challenge in Washington.
Last week, the State Department denied the girls visas but gave no reasons for their decision.
“We are alarmed by recent media reports that your department chose to deny visas to six Afghan girls traveling to the United States for FIRST Global, an international robotics challenge to be held in Washington,” wrote the members.
“Barring these hardworking, creative young women from a competition premised on global connection and innovation runs counter to the State Department’s mission of fostering security and stability through peace,” the letter reads.
“As our military leaders know and have said numerous times, vigorous diplomacy complements and strengthens our military efforts around the world – including our longstanding operations in Afghanistan. Save for a legitimate security threat, we urge you in the strongest terms to reverse this decision and welcome these young women to the United States,” the letter added.
The girls said not one of them posed a security threat to the U.S.
“There is not one girl among our team who will be a threat to the United States’ citizens. We wanted to attend the competition in the U.S in order to showcase the talent of Afghan girls,” said Kawsar Roshan, a member of the national robotic team.
“We are not a terrorist group (that wants) to go to the United States for subversive activities. Our efforts were aimed at participating in the robots Olympics (competition) in that country,” said Fatima Qaderiyan, another member of the team.
A number of international organizations have started social media campaigns to collect signatures in support of the Afghan girls.
The campaign hopes to collect thousands of signatures supporting the fact that the girls are not a threat to the United States.
“I am happy that I see our work is important for the world and we are happy to be supported by international organizations,” said Rodaba Noori, a member of the team.
The girls developed a robot that has the ability to do four activities. The robot has been sent to the U.S to be part of the competition.
“The robot made by our team can do four things. The first is it can collect balls, recognize their color and carry them. The robot can also move up and down,” said Ali Reza Mehraban, the team’s trainer.
Some members of the team said they had tried for several months to obtain visas but were unsuccessful.
“We were upset because the U.S embassy in Kabul rejected us. Some members of our team were crying. We expected that the U.S embassy should have issued visas based on the friendly relations enjoyed by Afghanistan and Washington,” said Kawsar Roshan, a member of the team.
The girls have been taught robotics at an institution run by Roya Mahboub in Herat. The institution trains girls in different fields.
The competition, which starts on July 16, is the FIRST Global Challenge - a robotics Olympics dreamed up by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway.
He founded FIRST - For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology - a program to motivate students in science, technology, and engineering - in 1989.
Robotics teams from 162 countries are expected to attend the competition in the United States.
To read the full letter sent by U.S congressmen click here.