Iraqi refugees find support from fellows and neighbors in Northeast Philadelphia

Hundreds of Iraqis are building new lives in Northeast Philadelphia. They’re simultaneously trying for a fresh start while holding on to their homeland, and even finding some unusual allies.

One of those families lives on a quiet street. The home blends in with the others on the block, but in this house, Layla El Hussain and her family struggle with pain that’s unimagineable for many Philadelphians.

“They killed two of my sons, and the other in the jail,” said El Hussain. “Still now for seven years he is in the jail. I didn’t see him; he didn’t see me. I feel sorry for him and for myself.”

El Hussain came to Philadelphia four and a half months ago to join her children and grandchildren. The grandmother resettled with help from the Nationalities Service Center, a non-profit organization in Philadelphia. The organization offers social, educational and legal services to immigrants and refugees.

Juliane Ramic, the Director of social services at NSC, says the agency resettled about 700 Iraqis in this part of the city. She says, for many refugees, the adjustment to life in America can be very difficult. “Everything is so new to you that you look out the window and you know you’re in a foreign land. Many of our families talk about this intense isolation,” Ramic said.

Ramic says the resettled Iraqis might never have spoken to each other back home. “Here in Philadelphia we have welcomed Iraqis who are Muslim, who might be Shiite or Sunni. We’ve welcomed Chaldeans, Mandaeans, others.”

Ramic says the diversity among Iraqis includes differences in religious, political and social class. She says upon arrival in the United States, for some Iraqis, “it’s really hard to put behind some of those things and realize we’re in this together now and how to help.”

Here in Philadelphia, Layla El Hussain says, despite some differences, the Iraqis have a bond. “We can live with Christian and Sunni and Shiite — all people. They are human, all. No different,” she said.

Read the rest of this story and see more photos from our partners at NewsWorks.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal