Church holds month-long service to shield refugee family from deportation
Immigration officials cannot legally enter Netherlands’ Bethel Church during ceremony
A church in the Netherlands has been holding non-stop sermons around the clock for five weeks in order to prevent the deportation of a refugee family.
Under Dutch law, authorities are not allowed to enter a church if religious ceremonies are in progress. With that in mind, the Bethel International Church, in the city of The Hague, has kept a service running around the clock since 26 October in order to prevent the arrest of the Tamrazyan family, who fled Armenia in 2009, The National reports.
Some 450 volunteer pastors – including Roman Catholics and lay preachers – have flocked to the church to take part, adds The Daily Telegraph.
The Tamrazyans - parents Sasun and Anousche and their children Hayarpi, Warduhi and Seyran, aged between 15 and 21 - have lived in the Netherlands for nine years, after fleeing Armenia when Sasun received death threats because of his political activism, CNN reports.
However, their asylum bid was rejected this year, and a deportation order was signed off in September, even though the family say their lives may be at risk if they return to Armenia.
They then appealed the decision under the so-called “children’s pardon”, which gives residency to refugee children and their families who have been in the country for more than five years. This also failed.
Theo Hettema, chairman of the General Council of Protestant Ministers in the Netherlands, told CNN the service will continue “as long as it’s necessary”.
“We want to love God and our neighbour. And we thought that this was a clear opportunity to put the love for our neighbour into reality,” he said.
“The purpose of the ‘Asylum Church’ is to create [a place of] safety for the family,” the church said in a statement. “We invite politicians to discuss with us the family’s fate.”
The Dutch immigration service said it does not comment on individual cases.