nsucurrent.com March 20, 2018

Burundi Teenagers Participating In International Robotics Competition Go Missing

22 July 2017, 12:43 | Ricardo Garza

Image via Washington Post

Image via Washington Post

- A group of teens from Africa, who were in Washington, D.C. for an worldwide robotics competition, have been reported missing, D.C. Police say. One of the teenagers missing is 16 years old while three are 17 and the other two are 18.

The robotics competition grabbed headlines worldwide after an all-girl team from Afghanistan was twice denied USA visas to compete, but the White House later intervened in a last-minute act, granting that team and its chaperone a special parole to enter the country on a short-term basis.

The teens had come to Washington to compete in an worldwide FIRST Global Challenge robotics competition, which drew young people from 157 nations to Constitution Hall in northwest Washington. The reports say police canvassed DAR Constitution Hall, where the competition was held.

Organizers of the 2017 FIRST Global Challenge learned that the adult mentor of the Burundi team was unable to find the six students the night of July 18, according to a spokesperson for FIRST Global.

First Global, a not-for-profit charity, held the inaugural the annual worldwide robotics challenge in hopes of sparking a passion for science and technology among high school students around the world.

It was not immediately clear why the teenagers would go to Canada, and authorities, who do not suspect foul play, have not offered a potential motive. The mentor told police the teens have one-year visas to stay in the U.S. Political tensions in the country sparked sporadic violence since April 2015, Fox News said. At one point the teams from Gambia and Afghanistan were denied visas to attend the event with their inventions, but the teams were later allowed entry into the U.S.

The Burundian embassy in Washington did not answer multiple phone calls or respond to an email from ABC News. Bindaba stated that "he does not know where (they) could have went", the police reports said.

Clarke added that Burundi - an East African nation of about 10 million people who speak the local Kirundi language and French - is on a list of countries at the Refugee Protection Division for expedited processing. It says the teens were chosen from schools around the capital, Bujumbura, and are accompanied by a mentor. He had no direct knowledge of their situation, but assumed they were seeking asylum, and many in the community feel the odds are better in Canada, especially now that the Trump administration has taken a harsh stance on immigration. "'The country's once vibrant independent media and non governmental organisations have been decimated, and more than 400,000 people have fled the country".

The mentor is identified in police reports as Canesius Bindaba.

The organisers of the robotics competition posted this photo of the Burundi team ahead of the event. "Hundreds of people have been killed, and many others tortured or forcibly disappeared", according to Human Rights Watch.

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