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More Than 1.5 Million People Displaced by Crisis

November 2, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ More than 1.5 million people have been displaced by the Persian Gulf crisis, World Bank officials and other sources say.

And hundreds of thousands of workers from the Third World remain in Iraq and Kuwait. The numbers dwarf the approximately 1,000 hostages from the United States, 1,400 from Britain and 3,000 from the Soviet Union.

Hundreds of thousands of others are returning to their distant homelands, some as far away as the Philippines and South Korea, said officials at the World Bank, which coordinates aid at its Washington headquarters for the hardest-hit countries.

The foreigners were lured to the Middle East by the better wages that Iraq and Kuwait could pay because of income from oil.

The largest and most recent group forced from their homes are citizens of Yemen who have been living in Saudi Arabia, some of them for decades. The Saudi government is retaliating against Yemen because of Yemeni sympathy for President Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

About 2 million of the 12 million people in Saudi Arabia were Yemeni. The newly united republic of Yemen also has a population of nearly 12 million. The uncertain border between the two countries runs for thousands of miles, much of it through the desolate area called the ″Empty Quarter.″ A report from Yemen estimated the number of Yemenis who have fled across it at 750,000.

Arntraud Hartmann, who works on the problem at the World Bank, told a meeting on refugees this week that the number of displaced Yemenis was about 500,000. But she added that it was not known how many more may have to go. About 20,000 a day were reported leaving in early October. Estimates were imprecise in part because large families sometimes travel on one passport.

″We don’t handle immediate relief,″ Ms. Hartmann said of the World Bank’s role. ″Others do that better. We’re concerned with making loans that will create jobs and do other things to ease the impact.″

Refugees need food, housing and jobs and are always an immediate burden.

The World Bank is the biggest source of aid to the Third World, lending more than $20 billion last year. Its staff is speeding up loans to the countries badly hit by the gulf crisis and is expected to report in the next few weeks to its 154 member governments.

Peter Riddleberger, a bank spokesman, said many countries have been doubly hurt: they have lost the hard cash that their citizens used to send home from Iraq and Kuwait, and they now have to spend their own money and whatever help they can get on finding homes and jobs for them.

In addition, countries that import oil must pay the high prices brought on by the crisis. Some have also lost valuable trade because of the United Nations sanctions against Iraq.

Egypt is one of the hardest-hit countries. Ms. Hartmann estimated that 380,000 Egyptians have fled Iraq and Kuwait, with perhaps as many more to come. A.S. Abderahman, second secretary at the Egyptian embassy here, said that when the crisis began there were 800,000 to 1 million Egyptians in Iraq, mostly farm workers and manual laborers.

Others put the number as high as 1.3 million.

″Iraq needed farm workers and made them welcome,″ Abderahman told the meeting on refugees. ″The Iraqis made some of them Iraqi citizens. Some were drafted and taken prisoner in the war with Iran. Some will want to stay in Iraq.″

An additional 200,000 Egyptians worked in Kuwait and had an estimated $8 billion deposited in Kuwaiti banks, Abderahman said. Others say there were as many as 300,000 Egyptians.

Egyptians working in Iraq and Kuwait sent home more than $1.65 billion a year in hard currency, much valued in their country’s cash-starved economy.

Jordan, Iraq’s neighbor, has been hardest hit of all. A country of only 3 million people, it must try to absorb about 220,000 returning citizens. Many are professionals and skilled workers for whom there are no jobs in sight, Ms. Hartmann said.

Fran Sullivan of the International Organization for Migration, which works with the United Nations, said India had brought home about 150,000 citizens. Figures reported from Cyprus, a center for news from the Middle East, put the number at 85,000 each from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Update hourly