Most of the 60 refugees from Kuwait stranded since Sunday at Baltimore-Washington International Airport left for other points yesterday, but only after they refused to enter a group shelter in rural Maryland.
The refugees, the last of more than 300 flown into BWI in the last 10 days, found temporary resettlement with nearby friends or relatives or were placed in church-run shelters at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.
Two to four families remained at the Sheraton International Hotel near the airport last night, according to a hotel spokesman.
The refugees thwarted state and federal plans for the next step in their resettlement when they turned down temporary housing at the New Windsor Service Center, a disaster resettlement facility run by the Church of the Brethren in rural Carroll County, northwest of Baltimore.
Many of the refugees have children and said the dormitory-style buildings and common bathrooms provided inadequate privacy. They also said the facility was too far from job centers.
Some families yesterday accepted government-paid one-way air tickets to other U.S. cities. Others, like Husni Saleh, 40, a mathematics professor at the University of Kuwait, waited for an American friend living in McLean to pick him up along with his wife, Ida, and their four children. Saleh said they will stay temporarily at the friend's apartment.
"I am very optimistic of getting a job teaching" in the United States, Saleh said. Like most of the other refugees, he has been given an employment authorization by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. They have three months or six months to seek permanent residence status in the United States, according to INS.
The refugees, most of them English-speaking professionals with Jordanian and other Middle Eastern passports, fled Kuwait Sept. 9, flying through Baghdad and London to Baltimore and arriving with little more than suitcases with personal belongings. Most said they brought little or no American money, and any Kuwaiti currency they had was not exchangeable.
Federal assistance agencies, acting through the Maryland Department of Human Resources, put them up initially at the Sheraton Hotel, with the idea of arranging longer-term shelter at New Windsor.
The families were given cash loans averaging about $500 each for four nights at the Sheraton, plus meals, and then were expected to move to New Windsor yesterday, according to Human Resources spokesman Clarence Brown.
When they balked, many began looking frantically for other shelter. Some milled about the Sheraton lobby yesterday, fearing they would be thrown out because they had no more money. But Sheraton sales director Robert A. Spraker said, "If they don't have the ability to pay, we're not going to kick them out."
A few families complained that government agencies fell down on the job, but most praised them.
"The U.S. government is doing a very good job, according to what is available," said Adnan Meriesh, 32, a Kuwaiti Airlines sales representative, who flew from Kuwait with his wife, Saher, and son, Hasham, 2.
Meriesh and his family are among seven refugee families being put up at Sarah's House, a temporary shelter operated by Associated Catholic Charities at Fort Meade. Unlike New Windsor, Sarah's House provides a private room and bath for each family, said Sue Thompson, the assistant director.