A team of Afghan girls who had been denied visas to attend a Washington robotics competition spoke of Donald Trump's support Thursday after U.S. authorities changed course and allowed them to come.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday that the federal agency could not comment on why the teenagers' visa applications were denied because that information is confidential under USA law.
Trump intervened to find a way to permit the girls entry, the AP reports.
However, the move sparked an worldwide outcry and only after U.S President Donald Trump reportedly stepped in on Wednesday night (Kabul time) was the initial decision overturned and visas were ordered to be issued.
However, Afghans are often rejected for US entry because there is a concern they will overstay their visas and refuse to go back home.
"It's important for Afghan women to be able to share their ideas", said Mehraban.
"We were disappointed, and we were feeling bad, but now we are very happy that they have given us a chance to go", 14-year-old Fatemah Qaderyan told Reuters as the girls arrived in Kabul on Friday, bags packed for their trip to Washington, D.C. The decision would allow the six girls from the war-torn country into the United States, along with their chaperones, so they can participate in the competition.
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The ordeal has a happy ending but still meant an arduous, emotional journey for the team.
"The support by the people and leaders of America means support for peace and development in Afghanistan and it shows that they want women's progress in Afghanistan", the trainer of the team Ali Reza Mehraban said.
"I truly believe our greatest power is the power to convene nations, to bring people together in the pursuit of a common goal and prove that our similarities greatly outweigh our differences", said Joe Sestak, president of First Global.
Before Trump stepped in to help, the competition's organizers had arranged for a group of Afghan-American students living in the U.S.to operate the Afghan team's robot, which is already in the country, while the Middle Eastern teenagers watched via Skype.
Members of the Afghan robotics team on their arrival at Hamid Karzai International Airport. "I want to say thank you to the USA officials and to the USA president who helped us". Airport workers and passengers wondered at the attention the girls were receiving, unaware of their identities. Gambia's team, which designed a robot to clean contaminated rivers, also faced visa problems but was permitted last week to travel to the U.S. Afghanistan, it should be noted, is not included in Trump's controversial travel ban, which temporarily blocks travel to the USA from six Muslim-majority countries.
"We have many plans for our future", she said.