USA denies visa to Gambian school robotics team

US denies visas to West African teen robotics team after families scraped together fees to apply
The Gambian Robotics Team Was Denied Visas To Participate In Global Competition
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04 July, 2017

Five teenage pupils from The Gambia who built a robot for a prestigious global competition in the United States will not be able to accompany their invention to the event after being denied a visa.

Five teenagers, aged 17-18, were denied visas which means they will not be able to accompany their inventions which they built for the prestigious FIRST Global robotics event in Washington, D.C.

The teens found the rejection "very disheartening", said Mucktarr M.Y. Darboe, who is also a director in the largely Muslim West African nation's ministry of higher education. On Saturday, it was reported that an all-girls team from Afghanistan were also denied a visa to travel to the U.S. to showcase their creation at the same competition.

"The only option we have now is to ship the robot to the U.S.so it would be considered in the competition which is in a few days".

Joe Sestak, the president of FIRST Global, said he has already promised the Gambia and Afghanistan teams that they will be Skyping into the competition as their robots are presented.

Five high school pupils from The Gambia, who built a robot for an worldwide competition in the United States, have been denied visas to accompany their invention, a Gambian official confirmed Tuesday.

The First Global robotics competition touts students ages 15-18 from "nearly 160 nations across the world" on its website and describes itself as a yearly worldwide robotics challenge to ignite a passion for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) among the more than two billion youths across the world.

He further added that the teenagers were denied visas soon after their interview at the embassy in Banjul, Gambia.

According to the organizers, around 158 countries will be represented at the competition including 40 African countries. They were not given any explanation.

"We were only told that we did not qualify and that we could try again".

Darboe also explained that the participants struggled a lot for the visa application as they had to pay $170 each.

The U.S. Embassy in Banjul could not immediately be reached for comment.

The aspiring engineering student said she was grateful for the opportunity to work with the team and learn about building robots. Kevin Brosnahan, a spokesperson for the state department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, said he was unable to discuss individual visa cases.

Al Jazeera reported that a visit from US Ambassador C Patricia Alsup served to further inspire the students.

Fatoumata Ceesay, the Gambia team's programmer, said while they are disappointed in the decision, they was to "show the world, 'yes, we can do it'".

In March, at least 60 African citizens were denied visas for African Global Economic and Development Summit in the U.S. state of California.

"It started when we were invited as a country to take part in the robotics competition", said Darboe, in a comment to The FADER. "We still are making them a part of this", he said.


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