A Sri Lankan who worked at the the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Saudi Arabia recalls the gruesome tale
Iraq forces invaded Kuwait on 2nd of August 1990. Then there were thousands of expatriates working in Kuwait. Reports reveal that over 10,000 Sri Lankans were engaged in various occupations in Iraq. Today marks the 27th year after the war between Iraq-Kuwait broke out. Most of the Sri Lanka expatriates came to Saudi Arabia crossing the Kuwait-Saudi border considering their safety. Most of them didn’t possess any valuables when they were crossing the Saudi border. Most of expatriate workers who came to Saudi Arabia were housemaids.
When this war occurred, I was serving at the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Saudi Arabia. Thousands of Sri Lankans came to the Embassy of Sri Lanka for their safety. I have never faced this kind of incident before while serving in the Government Service. We were confused when we saw the helpless Sri Lankans surrounding the Embassy. It was difficult to help them because the embassy had limited resources and lacked staff. The embassy had only 16 staffers then.
At that time the Ambassador of Sri Lanka was getting treatment in a hospital in Riyadh. One of the most prominent characters in Sri Lanka Foreign Service, the acting Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam (Now the Secretary of Foreign Affairs) had to shoulder the burden. It was lucky that he had a dedicated staff to help him. He could share this burden with them. I take this opportunity to specially thank the Government of Saudi Arabia which provided shelter and flights to evacuate stranded Sri Lankans and take them back to their motherland, due to the Gulf War.
We were confused when we saw the helpless Sri Lankans surrounding the Embassy. It was difficult to help them because the embassy had limited resources and lacked staff
It was a great solace to him (Ambassador) that Kariyawasam could take prompt action to help these stranded Sri Lankans with the help of staff of the Embassy. From the day that these stranded Sri Lankans arrived at the embassy, we didn’t have any leisure time, even to have our meals. We had no proper sleep either. We had to go to the airport three-four times daily in the night to send back the Sri Lankans. Most of them didn’t have a travel document (Passport). Then the acting ambassador authorized the home based officers to sign the temporary travel documents. Later these travel documents were used by the stranded Sri Lankans to obtain compensation which was paid to them by SLBFE, due to Gulf War.
When recalling this situation, we can’t forget the services rendered by the expatriate Sri Lankans working in various institutions in Riyadh and other places such as Mawarid Services Ltd and J&P Company Ltd. Transport, food items and clothes were supplied by both these companies and the Sri Lankans who were working there.
Most of the housemaids who came said that their main aim was to work in Saudi Arabia for some time, earn money and return to Sri Lanka. They said that they had come to Kuwait by pawning their properties and they had to redeem them. The acting Ambassador and the staff of the Embassy took a decision at a staff meeting to grant permission to those who were willing to do so. And at the same time there were requests from Saudi Sponsors to get the services of house maids. Then they were asked to deposit three months’ salary in the Embassy in order to obtain air tickets at the end of three months service and return to Sri Lanka. Receipts were issued for these amounts by the embassy. Many Sri Lankans got this opportunity.
In the meantime we were instructed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombo to send back the families of home based officers in the Embassy as the threat of Saddam Husain to Saudi Arabia loomed large. As a result we had to send back our families to Sri Lank and remain alone. We were instructed to have one room sealed in our houses. We were even supplied with gas marks, in case there was a sudden chemical attack. We felt very sorry to have faced such a situation at this time of our lives. By then Saddam Hussein had already expressed that he would attack Saudi Arabia with chemical weapons. Then we realized that not only were our lives in danger, we were also facing a struggle between life and death.
Saddam had issued a deadline before carrying out the chemical attack on Saudi Arabia. According to my knowledge, the first missile targeting Riyadh by Iraq was scheduled for September 16. In the nigh that day, we felt a great fear as Riyadh came under a chemical missile attack. But fortunately Saddam hadn’t used chemicals in keeping with the announcement made by the Saudi Government. Saddam had sent over 20 scud missiles to Saudi Arabia. Only two or three scud missiles crashed on to the land. The others were destroyed by the Patriot Missiles which were excellent productions of Americans during that era. One day a scud missile landed near the Airbase of Riyadh which was close to my house. One Pakistani person was killed during this incident. On that day a glass in a room at my house was shattered due to this attack. I feared very much on that day.
We had to go to the airport three-four times daily in the night to send back the Sri Lankans. Most of them didn’t have a travel document (Passport)
After a few days of scud missile attacks we had to get used to it and then no fear was felt. During the night we used to travel in Riyadh city without fear. One day we had to stop in front of the Al-Kosama Hotel due to the bugle sound signaling that there was a scud missile attack. Many people, including foreigners, were looking at the sky. A scud missile that was fired clashed with a patriot missile, launched from the airbase. We were watching the incident. At once the patriot missile got stuck to the scud missile and destroyed it in the sky. Only the ash on the earth. Though our lives were at risk, I was very happy to have this experience in my life as an employee in the Government Service. But it is very unfortunate to state that our service in a foreign country, at a time of war, didn’t merit any commendation from the Sri Lankan Authorities.
148 American soldiers were killed and 148 were wounded. 292 soldiers were killed in coalition. 32 aircraft crashed. 75 fighter flights were destroyed in the attack.
57 aircraft of Kuwait were lost. 4200 were killed by Iraq and 12000 were captured. 200 Tanks were destroyed. 850 of other military vehicles were captured by Iraqi troops. 27 ships were sunk. 6 were captured. Over 1000 civilian Kuwaitees were killed. 600 were missing. Eight Sri Lankans were killed and 32 were wounded.
Though our lives were at risk, I was very happy to have this experience in my life as an employee in the Government Service. But it is very unfortunate to state that our service in a foreign country, at a time of war, didn’t merit any commendation from the Sri Lankan Authorities
In Iraq as many as 20000-30000 security personnel were killed. Over 75000 soldiers were wounded. 3700 Tanks were destroyed by the allied forces. 110 aircraft were destroyed. 137 aircraft were flown to Iran. 19 ships were sunk. 6 were damaged. 3664 civilians were killed.