After the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime in Libya’s conflict, tens of thousands of Libyans were flown for hospital treatment in Jordan. Now the cash-strapped kingdom is desperate for their bills to be paid.
Jordan, which touts itself as a top destination in the Arab world for medical care, is demanding that Tripoli pay up more than $200 million in medical and hotel bills.
The total is a sizeable amount for a country grappling with rising fuel and electricity prices, little or no natural resources and a huge external debt that could reach $24.6 billion by the end of this year.
“Around 40 out of Jordan’s 60 private hospitals treated more than 55,000 Libyans in the past six months. I think many other countries would have failed to meet such a challenge,” Fawzi Hammuri, head of Jordan’s Private Hospitals Association, told AFP.
“Every week, we used to receive 10 or 12 airplanes full of Libyan patients, including those who were wounded after the fall of Qaddafi. The hospitals didn’t ask for guarantees from those patients on humanitarian and brotherly grounds.”
National carrier Royal Jordanian flies 13 times a week to Tripoli, Benghazi and Misrata.
According to Hammuri, Tripoli now owes $105 million to Amman in medical bills, while around 2,000 Libyan patients are still hospitalized in the Jordanian capital.
“We signed an agreement in November with a Libyan committee in charge of treating Libyan patients. The panel asked hospitals to do everything possible for the patients. When we asked the committee to pay, it told us the bills needed to be examined first, and they are still being examined,” said Hammuri.
“Many Jordanian hospitals now refuse to take Libyan patients.”
Citing Libyan officials, Hammuri said countries like Tunisia, Turkey, Italy and Greece have treated around 50,000 patients since last year's conflict in Libya. “This has cost the Libyans $1.4 billion,” he said.
A Libyan health ministry official said a joint committee is currently reviewing the outstanding bills.
“Many of the bills have errors,” she told AFP, adding that the two countries have agreed that half of the outstanding bills will be paid as soon as the audit is completed.
“There are people who are going to Jordan for treatment through the ministry and others through other means,” she added.
Libya’s program to treat the war wounded abroad has been mired in scandal with reports of state funds lavishly spent on cosmetic treatments, in vitro fertilization and stipends for spouses and relatives.
Hatem Azraai, Jordan’s health ministry spokesman, urged the Libyans to “organize themselves.”
“The problem started when the hospitals made deals with the Libyan side, outside the umbrella of the Jordanian ministry, which had to interfere at a later stage when the hospitals failed to get their money,” Azraai told AFP.
“The health ministries in the two countries signed an agreement to resolve this issue. But the Libyans need to organize themselves in order to pay the bills.”
During their stay in Jordan, the Libyans rented furnished and serviced apartments and stayed in dozens of hotels, which now demand around $100 million in bills.
The outstanding bills have exacerbated conditions for many hotels, which, according to industry experts, are close to bankruptcy.
“Many of the hotels face bankruptcy. Others failed to pay back loans they took from banks to accommodate the Libyan patients. It is chaos,” said Mohammad Balluti, a spokesman for a group of 70 hotels.
“I think the Libyans owe $100 million to Jordanian hotels.”
Hotel owners have held demonstrations outside Tripoli’s embassy in Amman, while some of them have reportedly evicted their Libyan guests.
The Jordan Hotel Association, which represents 470 hotels and guesthouses across the country, said 200 establishments had received Libyans in Amman alone.
“We have outstanding bills due to disputes among the various Libyan groups” which organized the medical trips to Jordan, said Michael Nazzal, chairman of the association.
Tourism accounts for 14 percent of GDP in the kingdom of 6.7 million people, and revenues from the industry generated $1.3 billion in the first five months of 2012.
“We need a solution to this problem. It is summer now. We expect tourists and we have to accommodate them,” said Balluti.