TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Ten years ago, Sawsan Toma, lived in Iraq with her children. She was running a beauty salon out of her home when she got an unexpected knock on her door.
"He said, 'Three days for you. If you don't close, if you don't move, I will kill you and your kids," said Toma.
Toma and her kids quickly fled to Turkey and were later approved to come to the United States as refugees.
"It was very hard. I had four kids. I was a single mom. When I came to America, it was very hard for me," said Toma.
She decided to resettle in Tucson. Her family needed help acclimating to their new lives and connected with the team at Merciful Refugee and Immigrant Services.
"Merciful is a nonprofit agency that has been founded from former refugees. We provide employment services, immigration services with a U.S. Department of Justice accredited representative," said Merciful Refugee and Immigrant Services Executive Director, Sara Jamil.
Nonprofits like Merciful offer help to refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers. They assist them on their path to citizenship, finding employment, healthcare and housing.
"When our clients come here, they take that opportunity to their heart. They really are hard-working individuals. They really are here to make a better life for themselves and for their family and to provide safety for their children and a future for them," said Tucson International Rescue Committee Senior Program Manager, Meheria Habibi.
During the pandemic, the Tucson branch of the International Rescue Committee helps provide medical services like testing and vaccinations.
"We're making sure these vulnerable populations don't fall through the cracks," said Habibi.
Habibi said the number of refugees they serve dropped significantly under the Trump administration.
In the 2016 federal fiscal year, the Refugee Processing Center reported that 4,110 refugees resettled in Arizona. In the the 2021 federal fiscal year, they reported that 55 refugees resettled in Arizona.
"Hopefully those numbers will increase. There are a lot of people that have been waiting to come here. They're ready," said Habibi.
"We have many clients that, just within three years of being here, purchase a home or start a business. They really take the opportunity to transform their lives," said Habibi.
Having been through the process herself, Toma is now advocating for others that come to Tucson for a better life.
"It's very important to help these people. Some people don't have food. Some people don't have friends. Not everybody has family to help. Some people don't have anybody. Some people die for nothing," said Toma.