THE FATE of the several thousand Western nationals held in Iraq against their will should not be allowed to obscure the plight of the several million mostly Arab and Asian guest workers who are being forced out of Iraq by the crisis created by Saddam Hussein. ''Saddam's refugees'' are not classical political refugees fleeing persecution, and they have the advantage of having a home country to return to. But their immediate needs are just as real as those facing refugees on the political run, and these needs are not being nearly well enough met.
The international rules call for each country to see to the repatriation of its own displaced citizens in these circumstances. But some of the countries most affected, such as the Philippines and Bangladesh, are hard put to carry the extra burden, including loss of remittances (one Bangladeshi in the Gulf is said to support 11 at home), that the displacement and repatriation entail. Nor is the existing configuration of international agencies and procedures set up to handle the massive numbers (perhaps as many as 2.5 million people are being uprooted in Iraq and Kuwait); to sustain them in their temporary refuges in Jordan, which has already received nearly half a million migrants, and Turkey, which has taken in 20,000 or more; and then to send them on their way to what are often very distant homes.
Particularly the Jordanians, who have many other crisis cares, are struggling with the incredible human and logistical tangle of this sad caravan. Far more international attention to it is vital -- at the political level and at the level of services to people whose lives have been turned upside down and who -- thousands of them -- are hanging on in wretched tent camps if they are lucky and languishing and perhaps dying in the desert if they are not. Both Jordan and Turkey have felt it necessary to slow the entry of these migrants, leaving them in a terrible limbo, because not enough aircraft and ships have been chartered to take them the rest of the way home.
The Europeans and Japanese surely have the post-tourist season airline capacity to fill much of the gap. Cannot the Pentagon, after it empties its cargo planes in the Gulf, pick up migrants in Jordan and take them at least as far as Cairo? The Gulf governments resisting Iraqi aggression have an obligation to help pick up the tab. The problem is short-term, international and desperate.