A 96-day church service to protect asylum seekers ends with government deal
Posted January 30, 2019 5:04 p.m. EST
CNN — After holding religious services around the clock for 2,327 hours, a Dutch church declared victory Wednesday in its bid to prevent a family from being deported.
The Tamrazyans, a family of five originally from Armenia, had requested asylum in Netherlands and been denied. But now, a Dutch government deal struck Tuesday will offer them and other asylum-seeking families more time in the country.
Since October 26, the parents and children Hayarpi, Warduhi and Seyran have been sheltering inside the Bethel church and community center in The Hague. To prevent their arrest and deportation, the church held rites continuously for 96 days, taking advantage of a Dutch law that prohibits police officers from entering a church while a religious service is taking place.
Dutch broadcaster NOS reported that the new ruling allows authorities to reassess the asylum applications of a group of asylum-seeking families who are already in the country, which includes some 700 children who grew up in the Netherlands and their parents.
The Bethel church was optimistic about the future of the Tamrazyan family in the Netherlands.
"On January 30, 2019, the continuous church service that has been held since October 26, 2018 in the Bethel neighborhood-and-church house has ended. The political agreement that was concluded on Tuesday offers the Armenian family Tamrazyan a safe future in the Netherlands," the church said in a statement.
Theo Hettema, chairman of the General Council of Protestant Ministers in the Netherlands, said: "We are extremely grateful for a safe future for hundreds of refugee families in the Netherlands. For months we have held up hope, and now that hope is taking shape."
The church says more than 1,000 people took part in the service over the three-month period.
Axel Wicke from the Bethel church and community center in The Hague told CNN last month that the continuous service became something of a "pilgrimage" for people across the Netherlands.
"We have had to account for so many people who want to visit during Christmas," Wicke said, adding that two of the services were being streamed on Christmas eve and Christmas Day.
The Tamrazyans have lived in the Netherlands for almost nine years, but their claim for political asylum was previously rejected. Until now, the Dutch Minister for Migration, Mark Harbers, had refused to use his discretionary powers to intervene and allow them to stay. His office declined to specifically discuss the case when contacted by CNN previously.
Speaking to Reuters in December, 21-year-old Hayarpi, the oldest daughter in the family of five, said: "I really don't know what the outcome will be, but we hope we can stay here (in the Netherlands), because this is our home, this is where we belong.