By Jan Carabeo
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As violence in Iraq continues to escalate, Iraqis in Philadelphia are growing more concerned about family still living in their homeland.
Clashes in the country only got worse Monday after Sunni militants seized control of yet another key city. The group calls itself ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Thousands of people have been forced from their homes as the militants fight their way closer to Baghdad.
The Obama Administration is now saying it is open to talks with Iran, in order to provide support to the Iraqi military. Meanwhile, more U.S. warships have arrived in the Persian Gulf.
“Every time I call him I cry,” Afnan Mathlom said of her father who still lives in Iraq. “If he doesn’t pick up the phone, I cry and say he died. Sometimes I call my cousins [and ask] can you check on him?”
Mathlom is an Iraqi refugee living in Northeast Philadelphia. She arrived in 2009 with most of her family. She recalls leaving Iraq at eight years old when two of her uncles were killed after speaking out against Saddam Hussein.
“We were worried about my dad, we said let’s go. We sold our house, it was a huge house. We sold it, cheap,” she said.
Life for Mathlom is much simpler now. She works. She goes to school. But she still worries every day about her father, who is stuck in Iraq. While he lives in southern Iraq, removed from recent outbreaks of violence, Mathlom’s friends and their families are not as fortunate.
“There’s no government,” she said. “It’s not safe. You can’t go out. After six o’clock, you can’t go out. They’re waiting, when am I going to die?”
The Nationalities Service Center, which helps relocate immigrants and refugees in the Greater Philadelphia Area, says it’s relocated close to 800 Iraqis to northeast Philadelphia. In fact, part of Bustleton Avenue is becoming known as Little Baghdad.
One of the first places many of those refugees stop is Al-Sham, a Middle Eastern restaurant.
“She says she could see her friend one day and the next day they disappear,” Moni Khan said as she recalled a conversation with one of her employees from Iraq. “Each and every day it’s hard because of what’s going on right now.”
As Mathlom watches developments in Iraq from afar, she just hopes to hear her father’s voice and one day see him again. Her family has been apart for nearly eight years.
“One day, the terrorists are going to be finished,” she said.
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