More than 700 Indians arrived here Friday on board the first ship to leave Kuwait since the Iraqi invasion.
The exhausted refugees made the three-day voyage with little to eat except bread and tuna fish.
"We had hot, oily water to drink," said a young man named Rajiv, an engineering student from New York who was visiting Kuwait when the Iraqis struck on Aug. 2. "But we are safe now."
Sweat streamed down his face, and his eyes were bloodshot from the sun and lack of sleep.
The refugees arrived at Port Rashid on the freighter Safeer, which had docked in Kuwait before the invasion. Its Indian owner, Ibrahim Modak, told reporters:
"Instead of leaving empty-handed from a place which was brimming over with foreigners, we decided the risk was well worth it."
Iraqi military authorities reportedly raised no objections to the Safeer's departure.
There were more than 170,000 Indians in Kuwait, the largest non-Arab expatriate community there. Modak said he gave preference to students and visitors, "and those who could leave on very short notice." From here, the refugees will be flown home on Air India charter flights.
Many Indians in Kuwait had crowded into the Indian Embassy compound, and those who arrived here said conditions were worsening.
"Drivers, laborers, construction workers and domestic helpers who had nowhere to go were pouring in with the hope of shelter," said Jagat Reddy, a shipping company employee. "The whole place is filthy and slushy. It stinks, and there is little more than dry bread to eat."
Another refugee said water supplies were drying up in the suburbs.
"Tankers used to come to supply us with water daily at the rate of 10 Kuwaiti dinars a month," he noted. "Now we are paying five a week, and the tankers have started coming once every three days."
An Indian banker among the refugees said Asian communities in Kuwait had about a two weeks' supply of food. Noting the importance to the Indian economy of the workers abroad, he added:
"If rescue operations by the Indian government are not arranged swiftly, a very important source of its foreign-exchange reserves will be starved to death."
The ship reached Dubai's waters Thursday night but was held offshore until Friday.
Meanwhile, the Tipu Sultan, a Bombay oceangoing ferry, arrived in Dubai carrying 10,000 tons of food that the New Delhi government had planned to deliver to Kuwait in return for more Indian refugees. The government said U.N. officials had prohibited the ferry from delivering its cargo because of the economic sanctions against Iraq.
In New Delhi, the Indian government acknowledged that Iraq has refused to allow thousands of Indians to leave Iraq and Kuwait unless the ships and planes sent to take them home arrive with cargoes of food.
For days the government had denied reports that restrictions had been placed on the evacuation of Indian nationals, but External Affairs Minister Inder Gujral, speaking to Parliament, confirmed them Friday.