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Refugees stream into Jordan, but camps aren't ready

RUWAYSHID, Jordan—The first refugees of the war with Iraq, 250 Sudanese fleeing Baghdad, arrived at the Jordanian border Thursday, and another 350 Iraqis are expected Friday, but camps may not be ready to house them.

The Sudanese arrived at Ruwayshid, the first major Jordanian city on the main highway linking Jordan with Baghdad, on nine buses, eight of them provided by the Sudanese government. They found workers trying to raise tents amid heavy winds.

The 350 Iraqis expected Friday tried to cross into Syria Thursday but were turned away, according Douglas Osmond, a senior logistics officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Workers were able to erect about 100 tents of the 1,000 they plan to build to accommodate as many as 60,000 refugees. "It does seem like we have some loose ends," Osmond said. "But we are prepared."

There are two camps in Ruwayshid, which lies 45 miles from the border. The first, called Camp A, is for Iraqi citizens who do not have another place to go. Those refugees will be allowed to stay about six months. Camp B is for third-country nationals who, like the Sudanese, will be coming to Jordan en route to their native countries.

The camps are surrounded by desert but have paved roads and a water filtration system, installed by the Jordanian government. But the camps themselves are managed by humanitarian groups.

Those groups had planned to complete the camps within hours of the first attack on Iraq, but have faced a strong sandstorm since Monday, making construction difficult. Politically, the groups said they could not start building before the war started. Jordan said that it was working until the last minute to prevent the conflict. Building a refugee camp would contradict that policy.

Aid organizations will be helping third-country nationals get flights home. And Jordan's Minister of Information, Mohammed Adwan, said that his government is pressing the refugees' native countries to help pay to return their citizens home.

Nearly all of the Sudanese who arrived Thursday said they had lived in Baghdad for more than 15 years and held jobs as varied as electrical engineer to taxi driver.

They said they left within two hours of the first attack by the U.S. for the 12-hour drive to Jordan. Some slept at the border while officials reviewed their documents.

Youssef Taban Gimes, 56, brought just four pairs of trousers and his passport.

Gimes worked as a driver in Baghdad for 18 years and sent money back to his family in Khartoum.

Mohammed Aded, 47, waited until his three daughters finished school for the day before the family boarded the bus to Jordan. Like Gimes, the family only brought clothes. Aded said he hopes he can return to the home and life he spent 18 years building in Iraq.

Refugees and Jordanians alike also were mourning the death of a Jordanian driver who was killed 80 miles inside Iraq. Reports said he had been struck by a U.S. missile, but there was no further explanation. The man, Ahmed Youssef, was making a telephone call at a popular stop between Baghdad and the border when he was killed, Adwan said. The government does not have any other details, he said.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-JORDAN