Exit rule has chilling effect on refugees from Iraq stranded at Jordanian border WAR IN THE GULF

January 28, 1991|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Sun Staff Correspondent

RUWEISHED, Jordan -- Through four days and nights of cold desert monotony, home life at the Iraqi border was like this for the Taha family: Four adults and three squirming children crammed into a Peugeot station wagon. No place to bathe. No food for two days running. A nearby toilet shared by 5,000 neighbors.

There was also the wind, barreling in from the west with snow and driving rain. And up at the end of the road to Jordan, there were the shrugging Iraqi border guards who kept saying, "Not today."

But the Tahas were lucky. Yesterday they got out of Iraq, joining only a handful of war refugees allowed to cross into Jordan since Tuesday.

For the estimated 5,000 others left behind in cars, buses and makeshift tents, yesterday brought only more bad news from Iraqi border authorities.

According to Jordanian officials, the Iraqis have decided that anyone who wants to get out of the country must have an exit pass, and exit passes may be obtained only in Baghdad. That would mean a 600-mile round trip in a country where gasoline is no longer sold.

Although the Jordanian government sent across a load of gasoline with a cargo of emergency supplies Saturday, even a full tank of gas wouldn't get most of the vehicles to and from Baghdad.

Even with enough gasoline, the route has become increasingly treacherous since the war began. Jordanian border authorities reported yesterday that two men were injured as they drove toward the border when an allied bombing raid struck near the highway about 50 miles east of Jordan.

For the Tahas, a Jordanian family that was living in Baghdad, the road offered no danger until they were stranded in the cold. They were able to get into Jordan only after intervention by Jordanian officials, Efat Taha said.

The refugees still trapped at the border are only about 20 miles from a fully provisioned Red Cross relief camp that sits on Jordan's share of the 40-mile-wide "No Man's Land" separating the two countries.

But the camp's only resident yesterday was a woman who would just as soon see the border stay closed. Ebtsam, who would not give her last name, said she'll be sent back to Iraq as soon as the border opens because she had been denied a visa.

For the past three or four days she has been the only refugee for the Red Cross workers to attend to. She has had time to add a few homey touches to her tent, such as the magazine photos pinned above her cot.

But the place still seems far from hospitable.

First there is the heavy smell of canvas and kerosene. Then there is the cold, which easily creeps through the flaps and up from the chilled ground.

The view outside isn't much more appealing, even with the sun finally shining yesterday after nearly a week of wet, gray weather and flurries of snow that dusted the barren hills.

No matter where one looks, the desert stretches to the horizon, with the emptiness broken only by the tall electricity towers that march down the narrow highway toward Iraq.

Yet, considering the alternative, Ebtsam is happy to be in the camp. Although she will not talk in detail of what she witnessed in Baghdad, it was enough to frighten her.

"To me it is impossible to go back to Baghdad," she said. "I run away from it. . . . I am very afraid for this risk."

While Ebtsam and the 5,000 stranded refugees bided their time in the cold, at least one type of traveler seemed to have no trouble crossing the border yesterday.

Traffic lanes were busy with oil tanker trucks driving into Jordan from Iraq loaded with oil, and back to Iraq from Jordan with tanks empty.

Iraq has been Jordan's only source of oil since October, when Saudi Arabia and other allied nations stopped shipments to Jordan, which has given Iraq some support in the standoff.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.