Afghan all-girl robotics team denied entry to US for competition

The six teenagers, aged between 14 and 16, from Herat won’t be going to the inaugural FIRST Global robotics event in Washington DC in July – but their robot will.

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They’ve all been rejected for the one-week travel visa – despite making the dangerous 800 kilometre journey – twice – to Kabul, to the American Embassy, to be interviewed.

Though saddened #TeamAfghanistan must watch from afar, see them ship their robot to colleagues in #USA for #FGC2017 长沙桑拿,长沙SPA,/vY8WbauHdz

— FIRST Global (@F1RSTglobal) June 30, 2017

Roya Mahboob, Afghanistan’s first female tech CEO, who brought the girls together under the Digital Citizen Fund project told SBS World News it was a dangerous journey for the girls.

“We didn’t get a reason why the students were denied” she said, speaking from New York. “They got very upset and the first time they were rejected they were crying all day”. 

Ms Mahboob said the girls were brought to Kabul for a second chance in the hope that at least one or two of them could obtain a visa.

“But unfortunately” she said “all of them got denied.”

Staff at the Consulate were polite, but she added “There are views that the number of visas for B1/B2 for Afghanistan is limited and that maybe their (US) Consular made the decision that this visa was not for our students .. or maybe because the students couldn’t speak English and because of that they made their decision.”

First robotics team in Herat

According to the competition’s website, the six girls were the first robotic team with the Digital Citizen Fund in Herat.

The fund is a non-profit organisation which aims to empower youth and young women in developing countries to gain access to technology.

The team members are from Towhid, Malakai Jalalai and Hoze Karbas high schools who said they “want to develop and explore our minds and creativity and maybe unveil the genius inside of each one of us”.

“This opportunity would allow us to invent, design, and create things that could possibly allow our community, our lives, and us,” according to statement on the website.

“We want to make a difference and most breakthroughs in science, technology, and other industries normally start with the dream of a child to do something great. We want to be that child and pursue our dreams to make a difference in people’s lives.”

FIRST Global Challenge

The FIRST Global Challenge is open to students aged 15 to 18 with the common goal of increasing their knowledge of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

More than 160 national and five continental teams are participating in the event, including a team from Australia – the QLA Pineapples (Team Australia) based in Brisbane, made up of students from St Peter’s Lutheran College and Grace Lutheran College.

The QLA Pineapples (Team Australia) image from FIRST GlobalFIRST Global

“We come together around our love for Robotics and all things FIRST,” said their statement on the FIRST Global website.

It’s not clear why Afghanistan’s team has been denied visas but other countries such as Sudan, Iran, Iraq have, including Team Hope – a group of Syrian refugee youth who say they never gave up hope and ambition despite the difficult circumstances they faced after fleeing to Lebanon.

Watching from afar

Roya Mahboob says the girls’ robots will travel to the US “and we’re going to find a team of Afghan-American girls here to make them ready that they can compete and represent our students here.”

The girls, meanwhile, will be watching their entry back in Herat via Skype.

Team Hope (Refugees) – young Syrian who say they never gave up hope.FIRST Global

 

Pressure mounts on McGowan to fix budget

Almost four months since becoming Western Australia’s premier, Mark McGowan remains confronted with the massive burden of repairing the state’s finances but cannot keep blaming the Barnett government, analysts warn.

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State debt is projected to exceed $42 billion by 2020, with a net operating deficit of about $3 billion forecast this financial year.

In an attempt to begin turning things around, one major decision made since the March election was to introduce public sector reforms, including capping pay rises and slashing the number of departments from 41 to 25.

But the amalgamations led to some senior public servants to indicate they would leave the bureaucracy.

Then, Road Safety Commissioner Kim Papalia announced his departure after it was revealed he sought a Supreme Court injunction to stop the release of documents to an inquiry about the $1.5 million sponsorship deal for the Western Force rugby team, which was struck under the previous government.

The premier insisted Mr Papalia’s departure was about the amalgamations, but Opposition Leader Mike Nahan labelled the public service “chaotic”.

Political analyst Harry Phillips said it would be difficult to measure the success of the reforms.

Fellow analyst David Black agreed, adding that while unions had backed the change of government, there was unease now in the public sector and dealing with unions, such as police, would be an issue for Labor.

Prof Phillips said the budget cuts only slightly improved WA’s finances and it was possible a key election promise not to sell Western Power could be broken.

“If, after a couple of years, they aren’t making enough progress, they might look at the privatisation agenda,” he told AAP on Sunday.

Prof Black said it could happen even sooner.

“It would be a major decision (to sell Western Power) but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out,” he told AAP.

Prof Phillips said the GST carve-up remained the biggest problem, but the Commonwealth seemed intent on waiting for the Productivity Commission’s findings.

He said federal treasurer Scott Morrison, who visited Perth last week, was keeping expectation levels extremely low.

“His political language is one of minimal change.”

Prof Black described some people’s expectations as a “pie in the sky”.

“There are too many players involved who would be impacted,” he said.

“You’re asking too many people to make cuts.”

Meanwhile, the average WA family is being slugged an extra $438.40 per year for utilities and other fees under the 2017/18 budget, including the fixed charge for electricity supply going up $169 and water rising $96.90, while seniors card holders will have certain rebates capped at $100.

While the budget will not be handed down until September, Treasurer Ben Wyatt recently announced the changes taking effect from July 1.

Some people labelled it a broken promise, but Mr McGowan said everyone had to bear some financial burden.

Prof Phillips said most people understood fees had to increase and the premier had been clear.

It remains to be seen what other cost-saving measures will be announced in September, and Prof Black said that would be the public’s opportunity to assess the McGowan government’s performance.

Mitchell stars as Hawks down Pies in AFL

Hawthorn have crashed Scott Pendlebury’s 250th AFL game, downing a depleted Collingwood by 24 points at the MCG.

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The Hawks trailed by two points at three-quarter time on Sunday but rallied in the final term to claim an 18.10 (118) to 14.10 (94) victory.

Tom Mitchell was again a thorn in the Magpies’ side, racking up 35 disposals and booting two clutch fourth-quarter goals to seal the Hawks’ victory.

Collingwood were two men down for much of the last term with Tyson Goldsack and Darcy Moore both injured.

Goldsack was concussed after a collision which left him bleeding heavily from the nose, while Moore suffered hamstring tightness.

The Pies trailed by a goal at halftime before snatching back the lead in a fiercely contested third quarter.

But the final term belonged to Hawthorn, who had an even spread of contributors with 12 goalkickers.

The 13th-placed Hawks remain in the finals hunt after backing up their upset victory over Adelaide last week.

“The challenge for us this year is we’ve been unable to really follow up with another good performance the following week,” coach Alastair Clarkson said.

“That was important for the group, to consolidate what was a really good victory last week and to execute it again.”

The loss drops Collingwood to 15th place, with a finals berth looking unlikely.

The Pies’ transition offence was much improved from previous weeks but they were beaten at the contests and careless with the ball.

“I reckon we had colour blindness in the second half – we kicked more to them than we did to us unfortunately,” coach Nathan Buckley said.

“It made it really hard to hold field position and defend some of the turnovers that we gave, and ultimately it was too much for us to counter.”

After racking up 50 disposals last time the two sides met, Hawthorn prime mover Mitchell was again allowed to run free and made the Pies pay.

Veteran Shaun Burgoyne continued his excellent form while Ryan Burton, Luke Hodge and James Sicily were important down back.

Hawthorn also gambled with Taylor Duryea in a forward tag on Jeremy Howe and were able to restrict the influence of the Magpies playmaker.

Jordan De Goey had a career-best 32 disposals for Collingwood while the oft-maligned Mason Cox booted three goals.

Milestone man Pendlebury had 21 disposals but the Pies skipper was quiet by his lofty standards.

Magpies midfielder Taylor Adams is certain to face scrutiny from the match review panel for a clumsy elbow to the throat of Luke Breust in a second-quarter marking contest.

PM to press case for free trade at G20 meeting in Germany

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull can escape the internal bickering in his own party when he flies to Germany this week to attend the G20 Leaders meeting.

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But the reprieve from hostilities could be brief with the debate in Hamburg expected to be fiery as some European leaders clash with US President Donald Trump.

Host German Chancellor Angela Merkel will argue for the international Paris Agreement on climate change to continue – a pact President Trump has already pulled out of.

She will also fight against calls for protectionism, in opposition to the Trump administration’s “America First” stance.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who is already in Germany, said Australia remains committed to the Paris Agreement.

“We will continue to promote the case for more freer and open trade as an engine for prosperity and lifting of living standards,” Senator Cormann told Sky News.

“The world is going to be a better place if all of us engage in as much free and open trade as possible.”

Senator Cormann represented Australia at the funeral of former German chancellor Helmut Kohl on Saturday, the architect of German unification and a driving force within the European Union.

He described Mr Kohl as a political “giant” and the day was very much a reflection of the significant and historical contribution he made to Gemany, Europe and to the world.

He said while Europe does face its challenges with Brexit, he said there is a lot of optimism and the French-German axis is stronger than ever following the election French President Emmanuel Macron.

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Italy urges other EU ports to welcome migrants

Italy’s interior minister called Sunday on other European countries to open their ports to rescue ships ahead of talks with France and Germany on tackling the migrant emergency.

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Marco Minniti, who meets his counterparts in Paris later Sunday to prepare for EU talks in Tallinn this week, said in an interview with Il Messaggero daily that “we are under enormous pressure”.

With arrivals in Italy up nearly 19 per cent compared to the same period last year, Rome has threatened to close its ports to privately-funded aid boats or insist funding is cut off to EU countries which fail to help with the crisis.

“There are NGO ships, Sophia and Frontex boats, Italian coast guard vessels” saving migrants in the Mediterranean, he said in a reference to the aid boats as well as the vessels deployed under EU border security and anti-trafficker missions.

“They are sailing under the flags of various European countries. If the only ports refugees are taken to are Italian, something is not working. This is the heart of the question,” he said.

“I am a Europhile and I would be proud if even one vessel, instead of arriving in Italy, went to another European port. It would not resolve Italy’s problem but it would be an extraordinary signal” that Europe wanted to help Rome, he said.

Over 83,000 people rescued while attempting the perilous crossing from Libya have been brought to Italy so far this year, according to the UN, while more than 2,160 have died trying, the International Organisation for Migration says.

Italy’s Red Cross has warned the situation in the country’s overcrowded reception centres is becoming critical.

Interior minister Minniti was set to meet counterparts Gerard Collomb of France, Thomas de Maiziere of Germany and European Union Commissioner for Refugees Dimitris Avramopoulos at 1800 GMT in the French capital.

Screen migrants in Libya

The Italian minister said Rome would be pushing for a way to shift the asylum application process from Italy to Libya, and safely bring to Europe those who win the right to protection.

“We have to distinguish before they set off (across the Mediterranean) between those who have a right to humanitarian protection and those who don’t.

“And, on the basis of the decisions made by the UNHCR, we must ensure the former depart for Europe while economic migrants are voluntarily repatriated” to their countries of origin, he said.

Unsourced Italian media reports said Rome was likely to call for a European code of conduct to be drawn up for the privately-run aid boats, with the Corriere della Sera saying vessels that did not comply could be “seized”.

Critics have said the NGOs attract traffickers by sailing close to the Libyan coast. The NGOs insist they have no choice, because smugglers put the migrants out to sea in flimsy vessels that sink as they reach international waters.

Rome would like a regional maritime command centre to oversee all rescue operations from Greece to Libya to Spain, which would spread the migrant arrivals between European countries, the Corriere della Sera said.

And Italy insists that the EU refugee relocation programme – which is largely limited to people from Eritrea and Syria – should be expanded to include other nationalities, such as Nigerians, La Repubblica said.

Between September 2015 and April 2017, some 5,001 asylum-seekers – 14 per cent of the 34,953 target – were relocated from Italy to 18 European countries, the UN’s refugee agency said.

“While some participating states have showed greater commitment towards relocation, the number of pledges made available continues to be inadequate and implementation remains slow and challenging,” it added.

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