Jordanian family waits at BWI, gambling on future

September 21, 1990|By Ginger Thompson

Ever since she arrived at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Sunday, Fadia Shaat has avoided telling her five children that although they are safe from the Iraqi soldiers who ravaged their Kuwaiti homeland, they have no money, no home and a questionable future.

Mrs. Shaat said she left her five-bedroom home on the Kuwaiti beach last weekend because she couldn't bear watching her three daughters and two sons cry out when the gunfire erupted in their neighborhood each night.

"In Kuwait, we all slept together on the floor in one of our bedrooms," she said. "The shooting outside would keep us awake all night."

"Now, me and my husband can't sleep because we are constantly trying to figure out how we are going to make it in this country," she said. "We have nothing but the clothes in our suitcases.

"I can't remember the last time I had a good night's rest."

Mrs. Shaat, her husband and children were among a group of foreigners evacuated from Kuwait by the U.S. government because at leastone child in each of the families was born in the United States. In keeping its promise to help the evacuated families find housing and jobs once they arrived in the United States, federal officials offered to house the foreigners at a resettlement agency, the New Windsor Service Center, in Carroll County.

But on Wednesday, the foreign evacuees -- mostly Middle Easterners who have advanced degrees, lucrative jobs and sprawling homes in Kuwait -- said the accommodations were not sufficient to support families with several children and unanimously refused to go to the Carroll County center. And yesterday, with one-way airline tickets provided by the federal government, most of the families left Maryland for destinations in Texas, California, North Carolina and Ohio, where they hoped that they could enlist the help of old friends or social service agencies.

As of yesterday, two families remained at the airport Sheraton Hotel. Mrs. Shaat's was one of those families.

She and her husband, both Jordanians who earned their M.B.A.s from Texas A&M University, had planned to go to Philadelphia. But they decided yesterday that since

they knew no one there, they would take their chances and stay in the Baltimore area.

"I heard that crime in Philadelphia is pretty bad," said Mrs. Shaat, cuddling her 1-month-old baby, while two of her other children slept on a bed in her hotel room. "I got a call from a woman who has a cottage, and one other person has offered to help us so hopefully something will work out."

She still refused to go to the New Windsor Service Center in Carroll County and said, "If I were alone, I'd sleep anywhere. But I have children and must be at a place where they can be comfortable and go to school."

Miller Davis, the director of the New Windsor Service Center, said none of his staff was offended by the foreign nationals' bad review of his agency, which has resettled more than 10,000 refugees in the past 10 years.

"When we thought about these people's backgrounds and understood the standard of living they are accustomed to, we harbored no ill will," he said. "I just wish some of our nicer rooms had been available."

After news reports about the foreigners' refusal to go to New Windsor, U.S. immigration officials said they received dozens of calls from people who had little sympathy for the predicament of the evacuees.

"Most people have been asking us, 'Why are you letting them stay here?' " said Louis D. Crocetti Jr., the assistant director of Maryland's Immigration and Naturalization Service office. "I think the U.S. government has gone out of its way to help these people, and it's upsetting to hear that they aren't satisfied and want social services that citizens of this country can't even get."

However, Mrs. Shaat said she was not asking for charity -- just reasonable assistance.

"We would pay every penny back," she said. "We just need a small place where we can have some privacy."

She was hopeful that she and her family would find a place to live temporarily by today.

"The children don't understand any of this. They want to eat all the time, and they want to go places," she said.

She added, "I just want to take them somewhere where they can feel like home -- where I can cook for them and take care of them."

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