SALT LAKE CITY — To be a refugee is to know uncertainty.
It means not knowing where they will go after being forced from their homeland in the face of war, persecution, natural disaster or political upheaval.
It means not knowing if they will be able to be resettled from refugee camps, let alone reunited with kin.
For a Bhutanese mother and her two daughters scheduled for resettlement in Salt Lake City this week, their plans were further unclear in the wake of an executive order by President Donald Trump that bars entry of refugees awaiting resettlement in the United States for 120 days.
When Diki and teenage daughters Monika and Partima (they asked that their last name not be published) arrived in Houston Monday night after traveling from a refugee camp in Nepal, they feared the worst when they met with immigration authorities at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
Speaking through an interpreter, Diki said she was nervous and even asked if she and her children were going to be deported.
She was told, “You are going to go to Salt Lake City safely tomorrow,” said Aaron Acharya, a senior caseworker for International Rescue Committee’s Salt Lake City office.
The family arrived in Salt Lake Tuesday, where they were greeted by about a dozen family members and International Rescue Committee staff.
“I’m really happy she is united with other family here," Monika, 19, said of her mother.
The mother and daughters plan to spend the night with family before settling into their own apartment on Wednesday, said Acharya.
The first orders of business will be helping Diki obtain employment and enroll her daughters in school.
The family may be the last International Rescue Committee clients to arrive in Salt Lake City before the executive order that halts refugee entry for 120 days takes full effect on Feb. 3, said Natalie El-Deiry, interim executive director of the group’s Salt Lake office.
"We had about 14 cases scheduled between Jan. 30 and Feb. 23. Of those 14 cases, this is the only one that has arrived. Most of those were canceled and those were from Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Iraq, Syria, all over the world where people were ready to board their plane and come to the United States and they have been stopped," she said.
It's not just a hold. "It disrupts the whole process — a process that's been in place for decades," El-Deiry said. "All of these families that are waiting may have to start the process all over again."
Suren Pradhan, who is Diki's nephew, was resettled to Salt Lake City from a refugee camp in Nepal six years ago.
He works as a phlebotomist and said he is grateful his extended family members were able to rejoin their family members in Utah, particularly as resettlement grinds to a temporary halt under the executive order.
"I wasn't expecting they were going to be here. They could have sent them back. They could have deported them," he said.
Pradhan said he worries about the message being sent to the rest of the world by Trump's executive orders on immigration.
"My personal belief is this travel ban won't help," he said, adding that if anything, it will intensify negative feelings toward the United States and "even more people will join ISIS."
Refugees come to the United States to enjoy equality and opportunity, he said. Salt Lake's two resettlement agencies go to great lengths to help refugees settle and start their new lives.
"I'm really thankful for what they do every day," he said.
El-Deiry said International Rescue Committee is conducting advocacy training for refugees and others who support them.
A March for Refugees will be held at noon Saturday starting at the Wallace Bennett Federal Building, 125 S. State, and marching to the state Capitol. That group will be joined by a Mormons March for Muslims.
About 1,200 refugees are resettled in Utah each year, half of which are served by International Rescue Committee and the rest by Catholic Community Services of Utah.
Late Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that 872 refugees will be allowed into the United States this week despite the Trump administration executive order suspending the U.S. refugees program, according to a senior government official.9 comments on this story
Kevin McAleenan, acting commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, said these refugees would be granted waivers. He said that was allowed for under the order, in instances where refugees were ready for travel and stopping them would cause "undue hardship."
El-Deiry said she hopes the review is conducted swiftly and resettlement of very vulnerable people, many of them children, will resume quickly.
"We're hoping that Congress and the president will revisit this very quickly and make some ratifications so we don't disrupt these people's lives any further," she said.