AMMAN, JORDAN, AUG. 19 -- Jordan moved today to slow the flood of thousands of homeless Arab workers fleeing across its obrders from Iraq and Iraqi-occupied Kuwait, Jordanian immigration officials said.
The exodus has clogged the Red Sea port of Aqaba -- this country's only outlet to ocean shipping -- which is overflowing with Egyptians and Sudanese stranded there with their belongings. Five ships are waiting in Aqaba to ferry laborers and their families across the Red Sea as Jordan seeks to organize supervision of the chaotic human wave sweeping into the country from Iraq.
Jordanian officials said today that the U.S. naval blockade in the region has compounded the problem. American warships this weekend turned back a Sudanese vessel that was bound for Aqaba to pick up hundreds of Sudanese refugees who had fled Iraq. U.S. officials said the ship was turned back after it was found to be carrying cargo banned under United Nations sanctions against Iraq.
The Foreign Ministry today formally protested the U.S. action, telling the new U.S. ambassador in Amman, Roger Harrison, that the incident was "obstructive" to Jordan's attempts to alleviate the refugee problem.
Marwan Qassem, Jordan's foreign minister and deputy prime minister, called on "foreign nations not to look at humanitarian issues from a single perspective," an apparent reference to mounting concern over the fate of Americans, Britons and other Western nationals trapped in Kuwait and Iraq.
Qassem's statement said Jordan had been doing its best since the Persian Gulf crisis began to facilitate passage for "all foreigners," but the prevention of ships from evacuating expatriates driven out of Kuwait and Iraq was congesting Aqaba "beyond its capacity and means."
Most of the refugees arrive thirsty, forlorn and dazed from the heat and hardship of three-day journeys across the desert from Kuwait and must then wait hours at the Iraq-Jordan border crossing under the scorching sun to be bused to Aqaba.
Jordanian police and officials at the border town of Ruweished said in phone interviews that they are not equipped to process the evacuees coming from Iraq and that they have asked their counterparts on the Iraqi side to limit the rate to 5,000 a day. But Col. Muhammed Shamayleh, a border official, said about 10,000 Egyptians had crossed Saturday, followed by close to 9,000 today.
The Egyptian government has sent 47 buses to join 113 already traveling the Ruweished-Aqaba refugee route, according to diplomats at the Egyptian Embassy. Two ships were to begin taking the refugees from Aqaba to the Egyptian city of Suez today to ease the load on three Jordanian ferries due to sail between the Jordanian port and the small Egyptian harbor of Nuweibeh.
A committee of representatives from Jordan's public-security agency, the Border Inspection Department, the Interior Ministry and intelligence agency was meeting in the Jordanian capital tonight to consider closing the border to Egyptians for 48 hours to allow the crowding at Aqaba to subside.
Meanwhile, trucks laden with wheat, corn, rice, flour, sugar, frozen meat, medications, woods, cotton, prefabricated houses and powdered milk rumbled eastward from here toward Iraq today, despite U.N.-imposed sanctions on trade with Iraq that Jordan's King Hussein told President Bush Thursday his country would abide by.