Homeless Kuwaiti Refugees Struggle For A New Life

December 11, 1990|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff writer

Three months after escaping from Kuwait with just a couple of suitcases, Sahai and Adnan Meriesh, still homeless and penniless, have been sent packing again.

They abandoned a comfortable home, well-paying jobs and their life savings, leaving behind close relatives and friends in their besieged country. Four days after they arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the Merieshes and their 2-year-old son, Hashem, found refuge at an Anne Arundel homeless shelter and finally felt safe.

But after job-hunting and searching for an affordable apartment for three months, the Kuwaiti refugees still haven't found a place to live.

They have only two days left before they must leave Sarah's House, the Fort Meade-based shelter that became a temporary home.

"We came in on the wrong time with the economy, which made it difficult to find a job," said Adnan Meriesh, 31, who is waiting to hear whether he landed a job with a Washington travel agency he interviewed with twice.

"We looked for an apartment, but they're real expensive," he added.

"Since we don't have a job, it would not be a good thing to have an apartment."

The Merieshes are not sure where they will go Thursday, when the federal government's 90-day contract with Sarah's House ends. The shelter program, run by Associated Catholic Charities, only received enough money to house the Kuwaiti refugees for three months, said Mary Lee Bradyhouse, director of Sarah's House.

Three of the seven Kuwaiti families who arrived at Sarah's House in mid-September either found jobs or moved to other states to stay with relatives and friends. But four families still faced an uncertain future last weekend.

"I hope everything will be OK," said Nizan Wattaur, who is moving her family to Long Beach, Calif., because her husband, Ihssan, believes "there will be better chances there."

The other three families probably will receive federal loans to move into apartments, said Clarence Brown, a spokesman for the state Department of Human Resources, the agency that supervised the Kuwaiti resettlement program.

Human Resources officials are trying to arrange an advance from the U.S.

State Department for the deposit and first months of rent. The Kuwaiti refugees will have to pay back the loans once they find jobs, Brown said.

Nearly all the 175 families who arrived at BWI in September moved in with families and friends or found jobs, he said. The four families at Sarah's House are the only remaining unplaced refugees.

They have struggled to make a new life here, without money, jobs or close relatives and friends. The slumping economy hampered job-hunting. The money they took along from Kuwait was worthless -- "just colored paper," said Adnan Meriesh, who left a lucrative sales job with Kuwaiti Airlines when he fled the country.

Although she's happy that her husband and three children are safe, Nizan Wattaur said she was jolted by the abrupt transition from her carefree lifestyle. She misses her house, her car, her friends and social life.

"Sometimes, it comes to me suddenly as a distress, and I start to cry," she said. "We never were in a situation like this. We never were homeless."

But Wattaur and the other Kuwaiti refugees also are grateful that they found shelter at Sarah's House.

They lived in separate apartments in a two-story former U.S. Army barracks that was converted into a transitional, longer-term shelter by Willard Hackerman, head of Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. Although Hackerman finished the work last year, the building sat vacant until the Kuwaiti families arrived because Sarah's House hadn't received a contract needed to provide services for the homeless.

The children attended school at nearby Meade Heights Elementary during the day, while their parents looked for jobs. At night, the families talked about the latest developments in the Persian Gulf crisis, played cards and drank tea together.

The cozy evenings are ending this week as the families scatter in different directions.

Although the prospect of again uprooting the family upsets the Wattaurs, they are determined to find a better life in California. Nizan Wattaur, who will leave behind a job at a Baltimore-area medical center, called her husband impatient in looking for a job but promised to go with him.

When asked whether they want to return to Kuwait, however, the refugees at Sarah's House said no.

Now, Wattaur said he wants to rebuild his life in what he calls a safe and secure homeland.

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