Jordan aids refugees stuck behind Iraq's closed border WAR IN THE GULF

January 27, 1991|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Sun Staff Correspondent

AMMAN, Jordan -- Thousands of stranded war refugees took shelter in cars and buses for the fourth day in a row yesterday, when neither the Jordanian government nor the chill of a desert snowfall could persuade Iraq to let them cross the border.

Jordanian officials did manage to deliver an emergency supply of blankets, food and gasoline to the impromptu Iraqi village, whose population has swelled to about 5,000, according to U.N.officials. Officials also said that a temporary shelter has been set up to accommodate some of the refugees on the Iraqi side.

A spokesman at the Iraqi Embassy in Amman said last night that the border could reopen as early as today if all "organizational problems" are ironed out. He did not specify what those problems were, nor say why they caused the border to be closed at around midnight Tuesday, just as the flow of refugees was beginning to pick up.

Iraq's move prompted reactions of alarm among Western diplomats. One predicted, "There's apt to be a large-scale, human tragedy if people don't get out."

The refugees stuck in Iraq are about 20 miles from a fully provisioned Red Cross relief camp that now sits empty on Jordan's share of the 40-mile-wide, no man's land that separates the two countries.

Refugees reaching that camp generally stay for one night before moving to other tent camps near Jordan's airports in Amman and its seaport in Aqaba. Then they usually stay two or three days before sailing or flying to their home countries.

Japan has agreed to send four military transport planes to speed up the airlift, though Iraq has vowed to shoot the planes down in retaliation for Japan's financial assistance to the allied war effort.

Jordanian officials have been trying since last Tuesday to find out why Iraq shut the border. Jordan closed its own border the week before the war began, fearing a human deluge to rival the one that overwhelmed the country last August after Iraq invaded Kuwait.

But Jordan relented after the United Nations agreed to pay the costs of aid and transportation, and a trickle of refugees began coming across the border nine days ago.

The country now has compiled enough supplies to feed 100,000 refugees for three days each. But as a result of the sparse, early turnout and the shutdown four days ago, fewer than 7,000 are now in the camps.

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