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Dutch Church Has Been Holding Service Continuously for Over a Month to Protect Refugee Family From Getting Deported

Over the last month, hundreds of pastors from all over the Netherlands have taken turns holding non-stop service at a Protestant church in the Hague, where a family of Armenian refugees scheduled for deportation has taken shelter. Dutch law prevents police from entering places of worship during prayers, and religious leaders are determined to continue the service for as long as it takes authorities to reconsider their decision.

The Tamrazyan family fled their native Armenia in 2009, after receiving death threats due to the father’s political activism. They sought asylum in the Netherlands and after going through a seven-year application process, a judge granted the family asylum. However, the Dutch Government successfully appealed that decision in court, and in September, Sasun Tamrazyan, his wife Anousche and their three children were officially notified that their asylum status had been lifted. No longer feeling safe in the asylum center they had been assigned to, the Tamrazyan family sought shelter at the Gereformeerde Kerk (GKV) church, in Katwijk, of which they had become members three years ago. They were welcome with open arms.

Photo: Hans/Pixabay

But despite the church offering the Armenian family shelter, there was nothing keeping Dutch authorities from storming in and taking the refugees into custody. That’s when the Bethel Protestant Church in The Hague stepped in to offer them greater protection. They invited the Tamrazyans to take shelter there and offered to conduct non-stop service until their situation was resolved, making it impossible for police to remove them without breaking the law. According to Dutch law, authorities are not allowed to enter places of worship during prayers, so pastors from all over the country have been coming to Bethel to take part in a  relay-style service that has been ongoing for over 700 hours.

“We hope the family gets a permit to stay in the Netherlands for two reasons,” GKV Katwijk said in a statement to Euronews. “The father of the family runs a great chance of being killed in Armenia. And the children have been living in the Netherlands for nine years and are rooted here.”

 

According to Dutch media, The Tamrazyans had also applied for “Children’s Pardon, a program allows refugee families with children who have resided in the Netherlands for more than five years  to obtain a residence permit, but their application was rejected. However, the religious leaders who took in the Armenian family on October 26 are determined to continue their ongoing relay-style service at Bethel Church until authorities reconsider their decision.

Support for the Tamrazyan family and the church’s efforts to keep them safe has been overwhelming, with hundreds of people from both the Netherlands and abroad attending the non-stop service and pleading with the Government via the internet. The hashtag #KerkasielBethel has been widely used on social media, and there’s even a petition active, which has already gathered well over 200,000 signatures.

 

The non-stop service is currently in its fifth week, and Bethel Church is still looking for volunteer pastors to take part in the “relay”, particularly pastors willing to perform the service during the night.

“The relay service probably still has to run for a while,” Theo Hettema, the chairman of the general council of the Protestant Ministers, wrote on Facebook, encouraging “nightowls” to get in touch.

 

“I think it is good that the churches make a statement in their own way for a fairer and also faster asylum procedure,” Joost Schelling, one of the pastors who has been holding service at Bethel Church wrote on Facebook.