Jordan Shuts Down Last of Infamous Ruweishid Camps With AM-Gulf Rdp, Bjt
AZRAQ, Jordan (AP) _ Jordan’s government on Monday shut the last of three makeshift refugee camps and moved the remaining residents into two clean, efficient tent villages.
Flaps on the empty tents at Shaalan II snapped in the hot desert wind, and garbage blew across the scorpion-infested sand near Ruweishid along the Iraqi border.
Hans Everts, a coordinator with the French humanitarian group Medicins Sans Frontieres, looked relaxed as he sipped a soda after his first good night’s sleep since the flood of refugees began following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
″We don’t expect another big influx,″ he said about two hours after the official midday closing of the camp. ″There will continue to be another 2,000 or so people crossing each day for the foreseeable future. But Jordan has it all magnificently organized. It’s time for us to go home.″
Shaalan I, which once contained about 45,000 people fleeing Kuwait and Iraq, closed on Thursday. Mercy Camp tents emptied Sunday. The government has said it will set up a small border receiving station for new refugees.
The fortunate refugees from the border camps headed directly for planes or ferries home. About 18,000 mostly Asian refugees transferred to Azraq I and II, a sweep of thousands of olive drab or white tents on the desert steppes near a ancient fort where T.E. Lawrence planned the Arab revolt against the Ottomans.
The tents stand in precise rows, divided into sectors by national groups, each served by a water line.
The desperation in the makeshift border camps, which only two weeks ago led to fights over water and food, has given way to camaraderie at Azraq, 120 miles to the west. Cooler weather has calmed flaring tempers as well. Temperatures rose to 120 degrees at Shaalan in August, but range from 90 during the day to about 60 at night at Azraq.
Monday morning at Azraq II, Sri Lankans exchanged greetings with Filipinos, and a Bangladeshi helped an Indian woman carry a plastic bucket of water. In the cool morning wind, people strolled the sandy hills near the camp wrapped in blankets.
In tent no. 92, Ernesto Callejo thanked God he didn’t panic and flee Kuwait in the first wave. After Iraqi troops stormed into Kuwait City on Aug. 2, Callejo gathered the other 250 Fillipino members of the local Church of Christ and began calmly planning to leave.
″We didn’t want to leave anybody behind,″ he said, surrounded by a dozen of his compatriots and friends.
For three weeks, the group gathered drums to fill with water, collected food and avoided occupation troops, finally renting a truck for the drive to Baghdad. If they had left earlier, they might have spent weeks at the border camps. Instead, they went directly from Baghdad to Azraq.
Callejo said that during their three-day stay in Baghdad, they had money but still had trouble finding anything to eat.
″Now our money is gone but they are feeding us. God and the Jordanian government provide,″ he said.
Styrofoam cartons filled with apples, cucumbers, grapes and tomatoes were stacked in the shade of a storage tent next to a camp clinic. A half-dozen doctors with the Jordanian Red Crescent supervised nurses from the Order of the Sacred Heart, bustling about in snow-white habits and Nike sneakers.
Khaled Abu-Halimeh, medical director at the camp, said 500 Sri Lankans would be leaving the camp Monday along with Bangladeshis and Indians.
But 3,000 more refugees arrived Monday from Iraq and Kuwait.
Dozens of evacuation flights leave daily from Amman. By official count Sunday, 14,850 people arrived Saturday in Jordan while 19,768 departed.
For Priscilla Ponsece, a member of Collejo’s group, things weren’t moving fast enough.
″We pray every day to go home,″ she said. ″And this morning we made a Philippine flag and raised it over our tent while we sang the national anthem.
″This camp is very nice, but we’re not home yet,″ she said.