AMMAN, Jordan -- Nudged by a United Nations pledge of at least $60 million worth of assistance, Jordan reopened its eastern border yesterday to refugees fleeing Iraq.
Officials expect combat to scare at least 750,000 people across the border, a number that would dwarf the approximately 360,000 refugees who nearly bankrupted Jordan with their arrival last fall after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
But only about 1,100 people crossed yesterday into Jordan, which was "much lower than we expected," said Hans Einhaus, who has journeyed from Geneva to coordinate the refugee emergency for the U.N. Disaster Relief Organization.
Mr. Einhaus theorized that people seeking to leave Iraq have not had time to reach the border, have been delayed by bombing, or never left after hearing the border was closed.
Syria, Turkey and Iran have closed their borders with Iraq, although some refugees have apparently been able to get into Iran.
Mr. Einhaus said that if the war lasts long enough, as many as 2 million refugees might come.
That would mean Jordan would need all $60 million promised by the United Nations and more. Mr. Einhaus said he has yet to collect pledges from several countries and expects at least $20 million more.
Jordan had closed the border last week to everyone except Syrians, Lebanese and its own returning citizens. Government officials feared that the earlier human deluge would be repeated in the days leading up to the Jan. 15 deadline set by the United Nations for Iraq to leave Kuwait.
Many refugees among those masses ended up stuck for weeks in huge, overcrowded camps that quickly ran short of food and water.
Jordan sought pledges from other countries to help pay the $50 million cost but so far has collected only $15 million. The United Nations convinced Jordan to reopen the border only by promising to do the collecting and guaranteeing the amount.