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“No Money to Leave Even in Danger”

Posted March. 19, 2003 22:23,   


War truly brings out the social and economic differences in a society.

Kuwait, an advance base for the United States` attack on Iraq, is divided into those who are leaving and those who are staying behind. The Kuwait International Airport was a madhouse on the 18th (local time) with those leaving to avoid the war. Interesting to notice here is that these are all Americans and British expatriates and some citizens of Kuwait. There wasn`t a single foreign laborer employed in Kuwait trying to leave the country. One of the methods used in distinguishing them is the Islamic traditional costume of `Vistasha` and the `Gotra`. Those who are not Caucasians with `Vistasha` and `Gotra` are Kuwaiti. These Kuwaitis already bought their plane tickets months ago and were able to stay right up until the war announcement.

However, let alone not being able to leave, foreign laborers, who make up the majority of the country`s population, are not even able to purchase gas masks, the most basic of safety equipment in Kuwait. It was announced on March 14 that the current population of Kuwait as of now is 2,420,000 people. Among these, the citizens of Kuwait make up 37.1% of the entire population, which numbers just 898,000. The remaining are all foreigners numbering 1,520,000 people. By just considering the labor population, the portion which the Kuwaitis take is even smaller, recording 19.5% of the total. As a matter of fact, it is nearly impossible for foreigners to acquire Kuwaiti citizenship. Especially, voting rights are only given to those who have been naturalized for over 30 years or those who have lived in Kuwait since 1920, or those who are the sons of fathers who were at the age of 21 years at the time. However, thanks to these remaining foreign laborers Kuwait still remains relatively stable despite the war threat.

The majority of these foreigners are natives of Egypt (300,000), India (200,000), Bangladesh (150,000), Sri Lanka (100,000) and The Philippines (60,000). The Egyptians and the Indians are in the middle management level of society.

“Since it is so hard to return once one leaves Kuwait, the majority of foreign laborers can`t get out of here,” said Bahra, a Sri Lankan. He works as a taxi driver and earns about 350,000 won monthly. Thus, there is no allowance to purchase a gas mask (costing 450,000 won on the local market). This is a reason why there are no customers in any restaurants but only visible scenes of large groups of foreign workers.

The embassies of their countries are not yet requesting them to leave. Secretary Lenewaka of the Bangladesh Embassy stated, “As far as I know, there has been nobody who has left. We are not recommending escape not until the situation gets worse.” The situation was similar with that of the Indian Embassy.

“Surely we will put the safety of the Filipinos before anything but we also need to think about the stability of the work situation for foreign laborers,” Bayani Manjibin, Ambassador of the Philippines, explained. If 60,000 Filipinos leave the country, the economy of Kuwait will definitely be damaged.”

Considering the situation of the their citizens not being able to leave Iraq due to the current living conditions, the Embassy of the Philippines has opened a free of charge internet display phone service for their citizens to call families at home for the limited time of 2 minutes each call.