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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Macron in Mali for diplomatic push on Sahel anti-jihad force

French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Mali on Sunday to boost Western backing for a regional anti-jihadist force, with France urging greater support for the Sahel region amid mounting insecurity.


The so-called “G5 Sahel” countries south of the Sahara – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – have pledged to fight jihadists on their own soil with instability and Islamist attacks on the rise.

Macron is joining these nations’ heads of state in Bamako for a special summit where France’s backing for the force will be announced, with a likely focus on providing equipment.

Based in Sevare, central Mali, the 5,000-strong G5 Sahel force aims to bolster 12,000 UN peacekeepers and France’s own 4,000-member Operation Barkhane, which is operating in the region.

Macron is also looking to extra backing from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and the United States – which already has a drone base in Niger – beyond a pledge of 50 million euros ($57.2 million) made by the European Union.

Serge Michailof, a researcher at the Paris-based IRIS institute, described the EU contribution as “a joke” given the EU’s “very deep pockets” and the poverty of the Sahel countries.

“This force is going to cost $300-400 million (262-350 million euros) at the very least,” he told AFP.

Chadian President Idriss Deby has said his country cannot afford to mobilise large numbers of troops simultaneously for the UN peacekeeping mission and also in the new force.

Deby and Macron are due to meet on the margins of the Bamako summit to discuss the financial issue, according to the French presidency. Chad’s military is widely viewed as the strongest of the five Sahel nations.

Al-Qaeda’s Mali branch, meanwhile, offered a reminder of the jihadists’ threat, with the release of a proof-of-life video of six foreign hostages.

The clip posted Saturday by Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, also known as the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, includes elderly Australian surgeon Arthur Kenneth Elliott and Frenchwoman Sophie Petronin.

Elliott was abducted in January 2015 in Djibo, Burkina Faso, where he and his wife had run the district’s sole medical clinic since 1972. Petronin was abducted in late 2016 in the northern Malian town of Gao.

In the video, the hostages are separately introduced by a narrator, who says that so far there have been no negotiations for their release.

Phased rollout

Macron visited Gao in northern Mali in May, his first foreign visit as president outside Europe, and promised French troops would remain “until the day there is no more Islamic terrorism in the region”.

France intervened to chase out jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda who had overtaken key northern cities in Mali in 2013.

That mission evolved into the current Barkhane deployment launched in 2014 with an expanded mandate for counter-terror operations across the Sahel.

The new Sahel force will support national armies trying to catch jihadists across porous frontiers, and will work closely with Barkhane.

Operations across Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, all hit with frequent jihadist attacks, will be co-ordinated with French troops, a source in the French presidency told AFP earlier this week, while help would be given to set up command centres.

Multiple fronts

While weighing up the challenges of the G5 Sahel operation, analysts frequently compare it with the Multinational Joint Task Force battling Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region, composed of troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.

Despite heavy initial criticism, that force “has succeeded in a part of its mission, which is to reduce the territory controlled by Boko Haram and limit its actions,” said Rinaldo Depagne from the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organisation that works on conflict resolution.

However, the G5 Sahel force has supplementary challenges in the weak armed forces of Burkina Faso and Mali, while Chad and Niger are already engaged on multiple fronts, he added.

The three-nation border of Liptako-Gourma will become a “laboratory” for Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger where French forces will aim to work in tandem with these nations, before bringing Chad and Mauritania into the mix, Depagne predicted. 

The G5 Sahel force’s top commander, Malian general Didier Dacko, has said that at first each country’s contingent would operate on its own soil, gradually becoming more focused on their mutual borders.


Brisbane Lions stun Essendon in AFL upset

The tight AFL season is about the only thing going for Essendon’s finals hopes after their stunning eight-point loss to struggling Brisbane.


The Lions had their best performance under first-year coach Chris Fagan on Sunday at Etihad Stadium, roaring back in the last quarter for a shock 13.12 (90) to 11.16 (82) win.

After leading by 27 points early in the last term, the Bombers again were found wanting in a tight finish.

Brisbane small forward Ryan Lester somehow took an uncontested mark deep in attack with two minutes left and kicked the goal that ensured the win.

It came a week after Essendon coughed up a 19-point lead in the last couple of minutes against Sydney.

Essendon have lost four of their past five games – but they remain two wins outside the top eight.

“At the moment, you would say maybe the only thing that’s keeping us in the mix is that no team is grabbing it and running away with it.,” Essendon coach John Worsfold said.

“I would much rather be saying we’re in the mix for the finals because of the good footy we’re playing.

“From today, I can’t say that. Previously I would have said that.

“Today, we’ve got to say ‘how do we bounce back from this? What sort of footy can we play over the next eight weeks?'”

Fagan said the main focus for his team was restricting Essendon’s uncontested marks.

He noted that when Essendon dominate that statistic, they beat good teams.

On Sunday, the young Lions won that category 93-63.

It did not matter that the Bombers won the inside 50s 61-48.

“For a team to say that they achieved what they wanted to achieve, by stopping us doing that, is an indictment on our ability to take that on,” Worsold said.

It is unfair to single out Essendon players – so many of them underperformed – but midfielder Zach Merrett was noticeably down.

He only had 19 disposals – his lowest return for nearly two seasons.

“I don’t know the answer to that – he didn’t indicate anything (wrong) at half-time,” Worsfold said.

“We were obviously looking at the impact he was having and we were concerned about that.

“But no, he was OK.”

First-year key forward Eric Hipwood starred for the Lions with four goals, while Dayne Zorko rebounded from a quiet match last weekend and had 30 disposals.

In his second senior game, teenager Alex Witherden was excellent across half-back.

Adding to the lustre of the win, the Lions lost key defender Darcy Gardiner in the first quarter.

His season could be over after he was taken to hospital with a dislocated elbow.

‘You need to lead for everybody’: Rhiannon slams Greens leader

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon has hit out at Richard Di Natale’s leadership as the party looks to reform the way it works with its NSW arm.


Her remarks follow a decision by the party room to exclude her from discussion on contentious legislation after a rift emerged over her campaigning on schools funding.

“I have been disappointed in Richard’s leadership but you need to lead for everybody and it is not just me locked out of the party room, the Greens NSW members no longer have a voice in the party room,” she told ABC TV on Sunday.

“Isn’t it time to make the party more democratic for members so they can have a vote for the leader?”

0:00 Lee Rhiannon temporarily suspended amid schools row Share Lee Rhiannon temporarily suspended amid schools row

Related reading

Senator Di Natale told AAP he welcomed Lee’s support “for the proposition I put to our national conference last November”.

Senator Rhiannon, who was accused of undermining a potential deal with the government on the so-called Gonski 2.0 policy, continues to insist she did nothing wrong.

She says it was understandable members wanted to prosecute the case for the original Gonski package and it was a “bread and butter” issue she supported.

The NSW Greens are being asked to work with the national council on how to stop its MPs being bound to vote against a decision of the federal parliamentary party room.

But Senator Rhiannon says the party needs to be more member driven and focus on global issues, such as inequality and homelessness.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with young members who join the party who want to talk about socialism,” she said.

Her colleague Nick McKim is confident with goodwill the party can work through the structural issues it faces with the NSW Greens and there won’t be a split.

“Ultimately there is far, far more that unites us in the Greens than divides us,” he told Sky News.

Senator McKim said there was no time frame on changes, but he would like to see it addressed as soon as possible.

Related reading

Iraqi forces retake hospital near Mosul’s Old City

Iraqi forces have recaptured a hospital and other medical facilities in west Mosul, further isolating IS holdouts in the Old City, officers said.


The country’s security forces are in the final stages of the gruelling battle to retake second city Mosul, which they launched more than eight months ago.

Interior ministry forces recaptured the Ibn Sina Teaching Hospital along with other medical facilities including a blood bank and a clinic, Staff Lieutenant General Abdulamir Yarallah said in a statement on Saturday.

Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat, the commander of the country’s federal police, said the area where the hospital is located, Al-Shifaa, had been completely retaken, limiting IS’s presence in Mosul to the Old City.

“Our forces are advancing from three sides and are pursuing the terrorist groups in the few remaining areas of the Old City,” Jawdat said in a statement.

Black smoke is seen around Mosul during fighting between IS and Iraqi forces.Yomiuri Shimbun

Iraqi forces have been fighting to retake the Old City for weeks, and launched a renewed assault on the area on June 18.

On Thursday, they recaptured the remains of the mosque where IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only known public appearance, a significant symbolic victory for security forces.

But IS made sure that the Nuri mosque was not captured intact, blowing it up along with its famed leaning minaret as Iraqi forces closed in.

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes have since regained much of the territory they lost.


Australia’s youngest CEO making her mark at 16

While school holidays are usually a time for students to relax or catch up on studies, 16-year-old Ali Kitinas also has a business to run.


“It can be a little bit of a challenge at times to find the right balance,” she said. “But I think that happens with anything.”

“My work hours are kind of in the evening. Often I get really excited about something and I want to keep working but I know that I have to wake up for school the next day.”

At the age of 11, Ms Kitinas dabbled in social media marketing in an effort to make some money doing something she loved.

She then put those earnings towards her current venture, making and selling body-scrub powder with the help of two humanitarian groups.

The Freedom Hub provides recycled coffee grounds, sourced from a farm supporting rehabilitation services for women in Rwanda and child soldiers, for Ms Kitinas to use in her products.

Part of her earnings go towards The Hope Foundation Hospital, which provides medical services to a group of children in the Indian city of Kolkata.

Ms Kitinas began Freedom Scrub shortly after visiting the area two years ago.

“A lot of these girls were my age that needed the services of the hospital,” she said.

“I had already been making coffee scrubs and body scrubs as gifts for people, and I saw that as a great collaboration.”

The young entrepreneur participated in last year’s TedXYouth at Sydney’s Opera House.长沙桑拿,moeloco长沙桑拿按摩论坛,

Homelessness hits home

Ms Kitinas’ entrepreneurial skills recently led to her participate in an international mentoring program with socially-minded business leaders, including Virgin founder Richard Branson.

Upon returning home she approached St Vincent de Paul about taking part in its annual CEO Sleepout – an initiative where some of Australia’s most successful business people sleep on the streets to raise awareness about homelessness.

She was accepted, becoming the youngest person to ever participate in the initiative which has so far raised more than $5 million across the country.

Her participation was particularly special for her mother, Lynne Kitinas, who herself lived on the streets when she was around her daughter’s age.

“I was sleeping in a cardboard box, staying over with friends, sleeping in church halls,” she explained. “It was cold. It was scary. There was a lot of violence. There were a lot of incidents where kids were taken advantage of.

“They are human beings. They have an identity, and the longer that you’re in the despair situation, the harder it is to get out of that.”

Ali Kitinas started her first business when she was still in primary school.Freedom Scrub blog

‘We have a real crisis’

More than 105,000 Australians sleep rough every night, and more than 2.5 million live below the poverty line.

Saint Vincent de Paul’s New South Wales chief executive Jack de Groot said the numbers have been steadily rising in recent years, thanks in part to a lack of action by state governments to address Australia’s ongoing housing-affordability crisis.

“People still can spend in excess of five, and sometimes ten years on the public-housing wait lists,” he said.

“We have a real crisis.

“The Commonwealth can put funding arrangements forward to the states, but we know, in different states, there is not enough public, social or affordable housing being made available.”