RUWEISHED, JORDAN, JAN. 29 -- The Abu Issa family left Kuwait after black smoke and a dark, oily rain made it difficult to breathe. They braved allied bombing raids, traveling at night through Iraq to the Jordanian border along mutilated highways, across collapsing bridges and past burning trucks and victims of war.

"The sky was black. We could not breathe. It became very dark. And when it started to rain, it was a dark and oily shower," said Manal Abu Issa, 18, who left her home near a Kuwaiti oil field with her older brother, a sister and her elderly parents.

Like thousands of refugees streaming into Jordan, Abu Issa described a hazardous journey fraught with scenes of horror from air attacks. In a final twist, the Palestinian family said, Iraqi guards halted them at the border with Jordan, telling them they had to return to Baghdad to seek permission to leave.

At the cold, snow-swept desert post of Treibel, the Abu Issa family waited among thousands of others -- including 900 Jordanians -- while Iraq kept the border closed for five days. Indian and Sudanese workers, also fleeing from Kuwait and Iraq, said they had slept in the open in freezing rain with hardly any food, no bedding and constantly in fear of air strikes.

A Jordanian liaison officer said he visited the Iraqi post to try to persuade its commander, a Major Ismail, into opening the border gates. He said Ismail received him in a dimly lit office, along with Iraqi dignitaries passing through and travelers begging to be allowed out of Iraq. He said the major told him that the border closure could be reversed only by Baghdad.

On Monday, without explanation, the gates were opened -- for all but Egyptians, whose government has contributed forces to the coalition fighting Iraq. According to refugees who reached Jordan today, several hundred Egyptian refugees remain trapped at the post, as Iraqi guards continue to demand that they get special exit stamps from Baghdad. Many of the Egyptians are stranded without money or gasoline to return to the Iraqi capital.

At Transit Camp 1-28, near this Jordanian border post, Indian Sikh refugees in bright yellow, pink and gold turbans climbed down in exhaustion from cattle trucks. They clutched rough blankets around their shoulders to shield themselves from the biting cold and howling desert winds.

"Just now, we are still shivering. There is no stamina -- we cannot even lift a small bag," said Radhakrishnan Nair, 35, a stenographer for an Indian company operating in Iraq. "We were thinking we were going to die."

Some of the refugees piled into battered buses, caked with dust and mud, to go to a more comfortable tent settlement inside the Jordanian border, or to arrange boat or train trips home.

For the Abu Issa family, there appeared to be no way out. Palestinians who once made their home in the Gaza Strip, the family had lived in Kuwait most of their lives. They held travel documents issued in Egypt but no longer honored there or by any Arab state. Jordanian officials came this morning to deliver the bad news: "Go back to Baghdad."

The Sarhan family received the same message. Zaki Sarhan, who is partially paralyzed, lay sprawled on the ground under wool blankets. His two sons sat next to him with blankets wrapped around their skinny shoulders. "What was my sin as a Palestinian? Twenty years of hard work in Kuwait and not one penny to spend," he said, his eyes wet and filled with anger.

His neighbor, Zuhdi Abu Issa, 60, began to sob in despair. "Where are we going to go? What are we going to do? We don't even have petrol to drive back to Baghdad," he cried. His son, Abdel Salam Abu Issa, an architect, hugged his father, begging him to save his strength and frail health for whatever travel was still necessary.

But Manal Abu Issa remained dry-eyed. "Iraq's is the greatest army, and any notion of defeating it can only be a whim," she said.

The Palestinians pleaded with an official of the International Committee of the Red Cross to intervene. "Ask the King {Hussein} to let us stay" in Jordan, one said.

"We cannot do anything about these people. It is very embarrassing for us," said Peter Fierz, the ICRC official. He asked journalists to pass on their names and other details to officials in Amman, the Jordanian capital. "There are two or three families trapped here. Usually, they are sent back right away," he said.

The families here may be an omen of misery to come. Abel Salam Abu Issa said they had left behind many other Gaza Palestinians living in Kuwait who, as fears of a land invasion of the country rise, are planning to head for this border post in hopes of finding refuge in Jordan.

Iraqi officials permitted two doctors from the Palestinian Red Crescent to pass through their border post today to check on the health of the refugees stranded there. Two days ago, the Jordanian liaison officer managed to get four trucks loaded with food and blankets donated by Jordanians and by the ICRC.

Those who had crossed to the Jordan today recalled the horrors of their journey. More than a dozen refugees reported seeing a burning truck near the Iraqi town of Rutba with the driver's charred body lying by the side of the road.

Youssef Mohammed Yahya, a driver of a refrigerator truck used to haul furniture from Iraq to Jordan, said he saw allied fighter jets bomb a truck driven by his cousin.

"I drove at night and the planes were hitting haphazardly. My cousin, Majdi Salem, was ahead of me. A plane came and hit his truck. He jumped out of the vehicle to flee into the desert. The jet went after him and strafed him. He was injured in his legs and stomach. I left him in the operating room at a hospital in Rutba and only God knows if he is dead or alive," he said.