Refugees from Kuwait And Iraq Arrive Penniless At Turkish Border
INSIDE the Habur customs gate, the only border crossing between Turkey and Iraq, 250 Pakistanis mill about. They have just arrived after a 30-hour-drive from Kuwait and are trying to decide their next move now that they have suddenly become refugees.
Those who came by hired truck are sprawled out on the ground among overflowing bags of bedding, clothes, and food, waiting for the morning. Then they will try to hitch a ride to Ankara, where they will beg their embassy for help. Their possessions and money are still in Kuwait.
``At least we are free now. I lost everything, but I am out of Kuwait. We are lucky that we were allowed to leave, because I have many Western friends who are just staying in their homes in Kuwait listening to the BBC and wondering what will happen to them,'' said a Pakistani who lived in Kuwait City for 10 years working in the petroleum sector.
Most of the Pakistanis arriving here early last week were wearing their national dress, which they said they put on so as not to be mistaken for Westerners at any of the many Iraqi checkpoints set up in Kuwait.
Reports about the condition of Westerners in Iraq and Kuwait are few and vague among the hundreds of Pakistanis, East Europeans, and Turks who cross into Habur daily.
A Bulgarian truck driver caught in Iraq after the Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait said that when he reached Beji, about 120 miles from the Turkish border, an Iraqi soldier told him Americans were being held at the city's diesel power plant.
``We were standing near the fence of the power plant and he pointed to seven little shacks near the plant and said Americans had been put there,'' said Stoyan Tzvetkov, the driver. Mr. Tzvetkov added that Iraqi soldiers had stripped him of all his possessions.
Yugoslavs who worked at the Bedush Dam project near Mosul in northern Iraq said that, in addition to Vietnamese and Yugoslavs, about 20 Westerners - from Scotland, Italy, the United States, Sweden, and Germany - were working there. Although not permitted to leave Iraq, the Westerners were not being mistreated, the Yugoslavs said.
``They are still working because they have no choice. They know they can't leave, so they don't even bother asking. They are all just very depressed,'' said Mitich Olgica, a trucking company representative who worked at Bedush.
Pakistanis who fled Kuwait said life there was fairly quiet. Most food stores were open, although lines were long and stocks were rapidly being depleted. For the most part, Iraqi soldiers were polite to residents, they said, and the Kuwaiti emir's picture still hangs in many shops and at traffic intersections.
``Looting has happened, but we aren't always sure who did it. Last week, an Iraqi soldier was hanged for looting, so I think this stopped looting by them. Still, they arrived in battered trucks and they're now driving Mercedes and BMWs, which they must have taken from local people,'' said a Pakistani who worked for a private company in Kuwait for 12 years.
Most Pakistanis arrived in Turkey penniless, because banks in Kuwait have not opened since the invasion and few kept money in their homes.
``The other big problem in Kuwait City is that municipal services have completely stopped. Garbage is piling up on the streets, traffic accidents happen all the time, there is nobody left to maintain apartments or fight fires. And we have no information, because all phone lines going out of Kuwait were cut. Kuwait doesn't exist anymore,'' said a Pakistani.
Scattered resistance to the Iraqi invaders was reported by a few Pakistanis from both Kuwait City and outlying areas. They said they heard gunfire almost every night, some Iraqi trucks were burned, and during the day children ran through the streets carrying Kuwaiti flags and shouting, ``Iraq get out.''
``But when Iraqi soldiers see this, they don't do anything to the children,'' said a Pakistani from Kuwait City.
Yugoslavs and Turks fleeing from Iraq said food there was in short supply, with items like rice and sugar virtually impossible to find.
Some Turks said Iraqi soldiers warned them that, if Turkey joined the multinational force in the Gulf, Turks would also be forbidden to leave Iraq.
But they also said that, in private, Iraqi soldiers often expressed displeasure with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's actions.
``A soldier told me that Hussein has made many problems for Iraqis but everyone was too afraid of him to fight back,'' said Mehmet Can, a Turkish truck driver who was in Baghdad for four days before arriving here.
Meanwhile, at the border crossing - where one month ago about 4,500 trucks passed through daily - the only vehicles crossing are the loaded cars of refugees or buses hired by companies to move their employees out of Iraq.
Along the road to Habur, dozens of tanker trucks lie abandoned. Restaurants and shops are shuttered and truck drivers say they have no idea how they will earn money as long as Turkey complies with the economic embargo against Iraq.
``I don't know much, but I do know we've helped America and in return what are we getting? Empty tankers, no work. Will the Americans give us bread now that all the shops have closed and we have no work?,'' asked Abdulhak Turgut, who before three weeks agoloaded trucks traveling to Iraq.