Already facing brutal harassment in their northern Iraqi homeland, large numbers of Kurds in Kuwait have been prevented from returning to their jobs, and at least seven have been arrested and have subsequently disappeared, according to spokesmen for the small Kurdish community here.
The Kurds who live here have suffered harsh treatment at the hands of Kuwaiti authorities because they carry Iraqi passports and, like Palestinians and Iraqi nationals in Kuwait, are often automatically assumed to have cooperated with the Iraqi occupiers, the Kurdish spokesmen said.
Within the past three weeks, seven Kurdish men have been arrested at their homes in the middle of the night by Kuwaiti authorities, and their whereabouts are unknown, according to leaders of the estimated 5,000 Kurds who live in Kuwait, many of them residents of the Persian Gulf emirate for more than 40 years.
A small number of Kurds have been beaten by Kuwaiti police and army officers who did not appear to be aware of their Kurdish background, community spokesmen said.
European and Scandinavian embassies have been flooded with requests from Kurds seeking to leave Kuwait as refugees, fearful that Kuwaiti authorities will deport them to Iraq, where they are likely to face ill treatment from Iraqi authorities as a result of the Kurdish rebellion in northern Iraq.
The reports are an ironic footnote to the worsening situation in Iraqi Kurdistan, where upwards of a million refugees are streaming into Turkey and Iran, fleeing violent reprisals from Iraqi forces bent on quashing the uprising.
Those whose original language is Kurdish are linguistically separate from the Kuwaitis, Palestinians and the other Arabs who make up much of Kuwait's population. Kurds in Kuwait say they joined their Kuwaiti Arab compatriots in opposing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's occupation of Kuwait.
"We are being treated like war criminals here," said Essa Agha, a native of Kuwait and spokesman for its Kurdish community. "Most of us are looking forward now to leave the Arabs. As they say, enough is enough. Now we must look (out) for our children."
Kuwaiti authorities over the last several weeks have rounded up hundreds of people suspected of cooperating with Iraqi forces during their seven-month occupation of Kuwait, and many of the prime targets have been Iraqi civilians, Palestinians and citizens of other Arab countries that sympathized with Iraq during the Gulf crisis.
Kurds say many of them have been included in the roundups because they carry Iraqi passports, which do not indicate their Kurdish background. Kurds have long sought autonomy within Iraq and have opposed Hussein's regime.
Even those born in Kuwait, estimated to number nearly 3,500, nonetheless hold Iraqi passports because of Kuwait's stringent nationality laws.
Now, many Kurds say they have been prevented from returning to their jobs in what they believe is a campaign of harassment by some Kuwaitis aimed at Iraqis in general.
Ali Agha, a 30-year-old Kurd who was born in Kuwait, said he has not been allowed to go back to his job at Kuwait's Ministry of Communications, although others in his department have.
There have been several reports of Kurds being beaten by authorities at checkpoints, he said. "When they discover they are Kurdish, they stop. Still, we are afraid."
Essa Agha said the Kurdish community has gone to the Red Cross to help learn the whereabouts of seven men who, within a few days of each other three weeks ago, were taken from their homes in the middle of the night by Kuwaiti authorities.
"We have turned the country around, and we can't find them," he said. "We don't know whether they're in jail, whether they're killed, we don't know what happened to them. When you go to the police station, they ask you what nationality are you, and you say Iraqi, and they just treat you like a criminal. . . . We're afraid. We don't know what's going to happen next."
Walter Stocker, chief of the International Red Cross delegation here, said the Geneva-based organization is helping all nationalities locate missing persons and will present any findings of abuses confidentially to the Kuwaiti government. He said he could not comment on the Kurdish situation specifically because of confidentiality restrictions.
Kuwaiti officials say they are not aware of any campaign of harassment against the Kurds and say they have no intention of deporting Kurdish residents into Iraq. Many Kurds who have not been allowed to return to their jobs have likely been prevented because of logistic reasons, not political ones, they said.
Kuwait's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed abu Hassan, said: "I don't remember we have Kuwaiti Kurds. We have only Kuwaitis, and only Iraqi Kurds. We are not expelling any people, let us make that very clear, but anybody who participated with the aggressor during his aggression, maybe he has fear there will be justice."
During the occupation, Kurds--because of their Iraqi nationality--were occasionally given special jobs, such as guard positions, but they normally used their positions to aid the Kuwaitis and never supported the Iraqi occupiers, several Kurdish residents said.
At gas stations, Kurdish guards often allowed Kuwaitis to buy gasoline without meeting the Iraqis' requirement of obtaining Iraqi license plates, said Youssef Muragh, an aircraft technician. Kurds often helped Kuwaitis change money and obtain fresh fruits, vegetables and other supplies from southern Iraq, he said.
"We are hoping the Kuwait government will give us our jobs back, because we supported them during the occupation, and Kuwait will not forget us," he said.
Who are the Kurds? Their origin is obscure, although they claim to be descended from the Medes, an ancient people who lived in what is now Iran, and the kinship of their language with Persian (Farsi) suggests they may be of Indo-European stock. Although non-Arabs, the majority are Sunni Muslims. They are sturdy, hard working and skilled fighters. Their unity is often undermined by internal rivalries.