Gambian, Afghan Students Refused US Visas for Science Contest

A team of teenage Gambian students are upset and mystified at being denied visas to attend a major global robotics contest in Washington later this month.

This comes days after an Afghan girls team was also turned down by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Neither team was given any reason.

“It’s very disappointing, knowing that we are the only two countries that aren’t going to take part in the competition,” Gambian student Fatoumata Ceesay said.

The two teams will instead enter the competition via Skype. But the video link is no substitute after the youngsters worked for months perfecting their projects and dreamed of the thrill of visiting Washington.

“It would be an experience to see and discover other robots and ask questions and exchange ideas with others. It’s more than 160 countries, so we’d have the chance to mingle,” Ceesay said.

The Gambian and Afghan students are especially puzzled because teams from Iran and Sudan, and a group of Syrian refugees were given visas. All three Muslim-majority countries are on President Donald Trump’s travel ban. Afghanistan and Gambia are not.

Lida Azizi, a 17-year old from Herat, calls the visa rejection “a clear insult for the people of Afghanistan.”

The U.S. embassies in Afghanistan and Gambia and the State Department say they cannot discuss visa requests.

WATCH: Robotics contest for youth promotes innovation

A group called FIRST Global Challenge holds the yearly robotics competition to build interest in science, technology, engineering and math around the world.

The group says the focus of the competition is finding solutions to problems in such fields as water, energy, medicine and food production.

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