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Afghan teenager invited to UN youth climate summit in New York refused a US visa

An Afghan student, Nasratullah Elham, 17, was denied a US visa to attend the first ever United Nations youth climate summit in New York this Saturday, despite being selected as one of a 100 “Green Ticket” winners from the more than 7,000 applications for the summit.

Elham was reportedly handed his refusal letter following an interview he had at the US Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand last week. The letter from the embassy stated that Elham was ineligible for a US visa under section 214(b), the section that presumes the applicant to have an immigration intent while applying for a non-immigrant visa.

A grade 12 student at the United World Colleges (UWC) Thailand International School, Elham told Al Jazeera:

I find it really unfair. I got generalised by the entire population of my country with the immigrant problem. I’ve been put into that category and considered to be a part of the problem rather than someone who is trying to solve another global problem.”

Elham, although studying in Thailand, is originally from eastern Afghanistan from the town of Mihtarlam. Despite his young age, he founded the Laghman Peace Volunteers (LPV) initiative, which helps organize community workshops and meetings with government officials to help raise awareness towards climate change and the climate crisis we are in now. Focusing especially on war-affected areas of the world, including areas of his own country of Afghanistan, Elham has proposed numerous solutions to reduce methane gas emissions as well as ways to stop deforestation.

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His passion and hard work towards combating climate change is what helped him get invited to the first UN youth climate summit in New York, which aims to bring together 500 youth climate activists from around the world to both raise awareness as well as help produce solutions to help tackle the growing climate crisis.

It was my dream to talk as a speaker on this global stage. I was really happy that I finally found an opportunity that helped me to represent the world conflict areas in a conference where they are talking about the defining issues of our time…the most important thing is to still raise awareness about the situation that many of the young activists face because they belong to a specific nationality or they have a passport of a specific country.”

The UN youth climate summit, set to take place this Saturday, is in preparation for the annual UN climate action summit that will take place on Monday. The summit aims to persuade and pressure world leaders to contribute and commit towards lowering greenhouse gas emissions as outlined in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Elham’s school headmaster, Jason McBride, described the US visa rejection letter as being like a “punch in the gut”, stating that “when the politics get in the way of something that is apolitical like climate, it just feels like we’ve missed a real opportunity”. While the prospects of Elham making it to New York in time for UN youth climate summit seems unlikely, it still remains incredibly empowering to see young activists like himself raising awareness at both the community and government levels on the importance of taking climate change seriously. The ugly side of politics may have gotten in the way for this particular opportunity, but by looks of it, Elham still has a bright and promising future ahead of him.