A church in The Netherlands has gone above and beyond to save a family of refugees from being deported.
The Tamrazyan family had been living in The Netherlands for nine years, having fled Armenia in 2010 due to political persecution. This included 21-year-old Hayarpi, 19-year-old Warduhi, and 15-year-old Seyran, and their parents, who have chosen not to be named.
The Dutch government had repeatedly attempted to deny the Tamrazyan family asylum, succeeding on the third attempt. Under the Kinderpardon (Children’s Pardon) Law, Hayarpi, Warduhi, and Seyran would have received protection. However, changes to the law in 2013 had made the application process much more difficult.
The family, facing arrest and immediate deportation, were forced to take refuge at a church in Katwijk. When the Katwijk church ran out of resources, the Tamrazyans moved once again to the Bethel Church in The Hague. Here they were shown great compassion.
Under Dutch law, police officers are forbidden to interrupt church services, and so ministers at the Bethel Church decided to use this to their advantage.
Beginning on October 26, the Bethel Church became a kerkasiel (church asylum); keeping a church service going for a near-miraculous 96 days.
As reported by The New York Times, over 550 pastors from approximately 20 denominations throughout Europe took turns in keeping the non-stop liturgy going.
Today in Bethel church, in the Hague, Miller read Martin Luther King Jr’s 1963 letter from Birmingham jail as part of his sermon. One line was eerily prescient: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” #MLK2019 3/ pic.twitter.com/pPvpnDGip7
— Tania Karas (@taniakaras) January 22, 2019
After over three months, the vigil finally ended after it was confirmed that the Tamrazyan family were no longer facing immediate deportation.
Protestant Church pastor Derk Stegeman, who helped organise the service, told The New York Times:
This is just the beginning,
I hope it’s a new way of being a church — a new way of having an impact on society, a new way of standing up for vulnerable people.
Stegeman proceeded to express hope the vigil will help bring about ‘a new attitude towards strangers and refugees’ in a divided society:
There’s still a big tension in our society, a strong division and polarization between these two groups.
In The Hague today to visit the Bethel Church, where 24/7 church services have been going on for seven weeks, using a loophole in Dutch law to protect an Armenian family from deportation pic.twitter.com/4X0Dke57GR
— Elizabeth Schumacher (@ElizSchumacher) December 18, 2018
The service ended after the Dutch ruling coalition announced hundreds of previously rejected children’s asylum applications will now be reviewed, as reported by Time.
The government minister in charge of immigration issues, Mark Harbers, has stated children and their families will not face deportation while the review is being conducted.
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.