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Give us our due.

Jordanian citizens, including Palestinians, who lost their livelihoods in Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion are demanding compensation through the United Nations. Their claims are recognised in principle, writes Mariam Shahin from Amman. In practice, restitution may be hard to implement.

MORE THAN TWO years after the liberation of Kuwait, the struggle continues for hundreds of thousands of former residents who have been forced to leave the country. They include Yemenis, Egyptians, Sudanese, Indians, Koreans and other Asian nationals whose livelihood in the Gulf came to an abrupt and thankless end when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

The single largest expatriate group living in Kuwait before the invasion was the Jordanian and Palestinian community numbering more than 400,000. For them, as for their fellow "guest-workers" in Kuwait, there will be no return to the Gulf and up to 50 years of work in an adopted land will have gone almost unnoticed and unappreciated.

Yet despite the vivacious anti-Al Sabah rhetoric coming from the streets of Jordan and the towns and villages in the Occupied Territories, many returnees privately long for their former host countries and are bitter about how Saddam Hussein used the name of Palestine in vain.

The returnees recall relative security, high wages and free health care. Increasing work and residency permit restrictions for their children under the rule of Sheikh Jaber al Ahmed al Sabah have been forgotten as topics of complaint as they were before August 1990.

Today almost all the Jordanian and Palestinian expatriates who left Kuwait live in Jordan. With them they brought some $3bn in investments. They gave a stimulus to better standards of living and technology, but they also introduced a different variation of Arab culture and customs.

Socially they are a group apart. Culturally they are pointed out as distinct in taste of dress and lifestyle. Bright colours and flashy jewellery are closer to the Gulf Arabs than to the more conservative Amman elite.

The poorer among the returnees, however, are people who lived off Kuwaiti charitable societies. Widowed women and disabled and sick people received a regular "salary" from the zakat (religious tax) fund in Kuwait. About KD250 ($830) were given each month to several thousand expatriates in Kuwait as a subsidised income from the Islamic zakat fund.

Today, debt-ridden Jordan can hardly afford even the most meagre of handouts. The returnees have set up their own charitable society that offers assistance to the more impoverished fellow exiles, called the Cooperative Society for Gulf War Returnees.

Its organisers believe that the vast majority of the Gulf war returnees are close to impoverishment. A building and shopping boom initially made the returnees welcome in Jordan, and the economy is remarkably healthy. Gross domestic product grew by 7% last year and the chronic current account deficit has been turned for the time being into a surplus. But the two-thirds of hard currency remittances that the Kuwait-based expatriates used to provide are gone forever.

An impoverished one-tenth of a country, which is the percentage of Jordan's overall population the returnees represent, is not what the Hashemite kingdom needs right now. Both the government and the returnees are eager to see that the United Nations Compensation Commission in Geneva processes more than 90,000 applications by Jordanians for financial restitution after being uprooted.

Thus far only 25% of those Jordanians and Palestinians working in Kuwait have been able to get back their bank savings and pensions, or have received compensation. Around 20% were employed by the Kuwaiti government. The other 5% represent the wealthiest among the Jordanian expatriates living in Kuwait.

Thus far some 91,550 applications for financial compensation have been made to the Geneva office of the United Nations through the Jordanian Ministry of Labour, which is the Commission's official counterpart in the endeavour. All in all, the claimants are asking for $3bn in restitution.

Everything from compensation for unexpected departure to restitution for furniture and pension loss to personal injury is being filed. Cardboard boxes filled with data on companies and partnerships in Kuwait line the office of Yahya Oteibi, who heads the Returnee Cooperative. Along with one volunteer assistant, Oteibi - who was once a millionaire in Kuwait - goes through every application word by word. "We appreciate what the Ministry of Labour is doing on our behalf, but we need to recheck everything for ourselves. It's safer," he says.

Many of the applicants fill the forms out wrongly or do not have complete information or papers to confirm their claims. Often returnees left in such a hurry that they left important documents behind.

"Some people had them in safety deposit boxes in banks and others kept some of the documents with their Kuwaiti patrons or partners," says Oteibi. A quick departure and the chaos of occupied Kuwait are frequently cited by applicants as reasons why their legal and business papers are not complete. But Oteibi fears that the Compensation Commission in Geneva will throw out incomplete applications and he has taken it upon himself to try and ensure that every application is complete.

While not a single applicant has received compensation from the Geneva commission to date, Oteibi believes that the commission will make some compensation available. "It will happen sooner or later. Right now our mission is to record our claims."

Oteibi fears that there will be counter-claims from the Kuwaiti patrons and partners of many Jordanian businessmen and companies. "If we can prove that the businesses were ours and that, because of the special circumstances in Kuwait, the Kuwaitis were just a front, then we will be okay," he says. The returnees society has hired nine translators, many of whom are themselves exiles, to help process legal documents.

Around 91,550 claims have been made so far. They fall into six categories. The first, known as form A, is a departure fee for both individuals or families. A higher departee fee is paid to those who agree not to file for restitution for any other losses. For the people in the second category a lump sum departure fee goes up to $8,000 from $5,000 for a family and up to $4,000 from $2,500 for individuals. Altogether 58,000 people have made claims in this category thus far. Their combined claims amount to $285m.

The second category is known as form B. Compensation for personal injuries (torture in particular) is applied for in form B. Personal injury as well as psychological injuries resulting from rape or witnessing murders and other crimes are included in this category.

While the compensation in this category varies on the type of personal or psychological injury, some 650 people have applied for compensation altogether, according to the Jordanian Ministry of Labour. Victims who fall into this category can claim anywhere between $2,500 and $30,000, depending on the case. The aggregate claim for compensation is $5m.

The third category or form C incorporates all personal and private business ventures that have a combined worth of less than $100,000. Losses suffered by unincorporated partnerships must, in principle, be claimed jointly by all partners. So far, 32,000 form C applications have been given to the Ministry of Labour. Total compensation requested is some $1bn.

Because Kuwaiti law allowed only Kuwaitis to own businesses, all Jordanians and Palestinians had Kuwaiti counterparts who were patrons and majority shareholders. Sometimes they were partners in name only and had put no personal investments into the businesses in question.

Form D encompasses almost a dozen categories from compensation for being taken hostage, to losing a parent, child or spouse and property, income, savings and business losses. This category is considered to be the compensation claim for losses exceeding $100,000. Thus far 650 applications for compensation under the terms of form D have been given to the Ministry of Labour. The amount being claimed is $1bn.

|Incomplete Text in Original Publication~

sation form. Form E deals solely with company claims. To date, some 250 company owners have applied for compensation to a value of $500,000. The Jordanian government has also applied for compensation for damage to its property and interests in Kuwait. The Jordanian Ministry of Labour gives no exact figure except to say it is below $4bn.

The Ministry of Labour says that 99% of forms A, B and C have been compiled and sent to Geneva and that the larger compensation claims in forms D and E are still being completed.

The money for compensation for Jordanians and an equal number of people from at least three dozen countries is expected to come from Iraq oil sales and frozen assets. Iraqi nationals are specifically excluded from applying for compensation. Even those who lived in Kuwait for decades are barred from applying for compensation. Compensation form C specifically says that "claims will not be considered on behalf of Iraqi nationals who do not have bona fide nationality of another state."

A United Nations proposal that Iraq sell $1.6bn of its oil, includes a clause which would draw on almost one third of that amount for the UN compensation fund. Iraq still refuses to go along with the proposal. At the same time, restitution for former residents expelled after the liberation from Iraqi occupation is far from being a priority for the Kuwaiti government. It has made it clear that a large Arab expatriate community is no longer desirable. Having summarily rid itself of most of its Palestinian and Jordanian residents, it is reluctant to pay them for their troubles as well.
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Title Annotation:Jordanians and Palestinians forced to flee Kuwait seek restitution
Author:Shahin, Mariam
Publication:The Middle East
Date:May 1, 1993
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