Workers Back from Kuwait Find Few Jobs, Little Hope
AL-WIHDAT, Jordan (AP) _ In this dusty Palestinian refugee camp, a soft-spoken victim of the invasion of Kuwait calculated the hefty losses in his young life with a shrug and prayer for peace.
Isam Al-Absi is 24, homeless, stateless and, quite suddenly, poor.
In the fallout of the Aug. 2 invasion, he is among the faceless numbers forced to survive on their wits, without recourse to government aid.
While world attention has focused on the military standoff in the Persian Gulf and the plight of Asian refugees in desert camps, tens of thousands of Jordanians and Palestinians have returned from Kuwait to find jobs scarce and hope waning.
″In Kuwait we were stable,″ said Al-Absi. ″We were set up in our jobs. We had good careers, cars, homes. Everything was complete for us. And now, we don’t have a home, we don’t have careers, we don’t have cars.″
The young civil engineer, whose family fled Palestine to Jordan in 1948, said he left Kuwait on Tuesday, reached Jordan the next day, and hopes eventually to join his family in Cairo, Egypt. They were vacationing there when Iraq attacked Kuwait.
Authorities in Amman estimate that half the 120,000 Jordanians working in Kuwait and an unknown number of Palestinians are returning to Jordan, which is itself facing economic catastrophe from the Persian Gulf crisis.
Finance Minister Basel Jardaneh said Jordan is considering what it can do to help. But for now it has no aid program.
Government officials are worried about how to absorb such huge numbers in a country where unemployment is already officially estimated at 15 percent and where the economy is teetering on the brink of collapse.
″Nobody can find a job here,″ Mohammed Sabti said glumly as stood before his family’s cement-block house on a rocky hillside in the small town of Awagan.
The 22-year-old Jordanian said he lost his job selling used cars in Kuwait because all the cars were stolen from the dealership after the invasion.
Sabti, who holds a university degree in hotel management, said he has failed to find a job in Jordan and plans to return to occupied Kuwait in two weeks to look for work.
″If I could find a job here that would pay a salary of even 100 Jordanian dinars (about $160) a month, I’d stay,″ he said.
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, the U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy for humanitarian assistance in the gulf crisis, said last week that the Palestinian and Jordanian workers, along with thousands of Asian refugees, have to be considered victims of the crisis.
″For all these people, it’s a broken dream. All of them tell the same story. They became destitute overnight,″ he said.
Al-Absi said he and other foreign workers in Kuwait blame Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for their losses. He said they don’t support Saddam’s demand that an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait be tied to a solution of the Palestinian problem.
″Here in Jordan and the other Arab places, they don’t see the problem as we see it,″ he said.
″Those who lived in Kuwait for 10 years - or even three or four years - are against the invasion because of the suffering it has caused,″ he added.
″We want to get Palestine back. But I don’t think this is the way to do it. ... The way to Palestine is not through Kuwait.″
He said the Palestinian support inside Kuwait for the Iraqi occupation came from those who arrived after the invasion and who are ″gaining benefits from the invasion.″
Ousted Kuwaiti officials say Saddam is trying to expel Kuwaitis. They say he is attempting to repopulate Kuwait with Iraqis and Iraq’s supporters.
″I don’t think anyone who stands on the side of truth is in favor of the invasion. But we’re also against any harm to Iraq. We want this to end peacefully,″ Al-Absi said.