AMMAN, JORDAN — THE big Bedouin tent, the exhausted men in white Gulf robes, and the piles of mattresses and luggage strewn around the parking lot contrast with the Westernized and stylish buildings and coffee shops of the elegant residential area of Shmeisani. The men, mostly Yemenis, have been waiting for at least three days for flights to their native country after fleeing Kuwait and Iraq. Inside the stone building of the Jordan Professional Associations Complex, which has been turned into a temporary home for 600 evacuees, Yemeni women and children are tended by young Jordanian volunteers and doctors.
For many Jordanians, the scene, which is repeated in mosques and commercial buildings across Amman, is only a hint of the human tragedy expected if the escalation in the Gulf area continues.
So far, more than 200,000 expatriates, predominantly Arab, Asian, and Eastern European, have crossed from Iraq, causing tremendous pressure on an already financially squeezed Jordan.
The congestion in the desert at the Ruweished border point with Iraq, as well as the initial lack of sufficient personnel and equipment to cope with the massive flood of evacuees, prompted Jordan to close the border.
Jordan's problem in coping with the continuous human wave has been aggravated by the slowdown of its already ailing economy as a result of international sanctions against Iraq.
``It was simply unfair to strangle the Jordanian economy and at the same time expect the country to cope with the evacuees,'' says a Jordanian economist.
An official statement last week, pointing out the disastrous effects of the international sanctions on Jordan, called on European and other countries for immediate aid. Help has started pouring in from the European Community, which allocated $1.32 million to finance the required airlifts to the evacuees. West Germany sent food supplies and tents, and the International Red Cross set up an emergency center at the border to supply evacuees with food, water, and medical aid. The United States has also reportedly allocated $1 million to Jordan for humanitarian needs.
Jordanians, many of whom have expressed strong support for Iraq, are engaged in a full-fledged aid campaign, involving the government, Islamic charities, churches, professional unions, private companies. Individuals have donated blankets, meals, and medicine for the temporary ``refugees.''
Hospitals in Amman offered free treatment for sick evacuees, some of whom were suffering the physical effects of traveling hundreds of miles in the scorching desert heat. Several people were reported to have died during the trek.
Every day, hundreds of Jordanian volunteers distribute regular meals to the evacuee centers, usually including the traditional Jordanian mansaf (rice topped with lamb chunks and yogurt).
By the end of the weekend, although at least 15,000 people a day continued to stream into Jordan, officials were able to heave a sigh of relief. A massive airlift began for thousands of the estimated 40,000 stranded Egyptians, who failed to get places on ferryboats across the Red Sea from Aqaba to Neube'eh.
The evacuation of stranded Arab and Asian nationals is rapidly picking up, Amman airport officials say, with more than 108 charted flights to Jordan by various airlines.
Although the stranded evacuees are relieved to be returning to their homelands, they lament a lost dream that had prompted them years ago to settle in the wealthy emirate. Most anticipated that they would return to their poor hometowns and villages with enough savings to secure them a decent life.
``We had to leave our houses behind. We could not even withdraw our savings from the closed banks,'' said Ikbal, a Pakistani technician who had worked in Kuwait for 12 years. ``But we could not wait to start, there was nothing left for us there.''