Asylum seeker family saved by 96-day church service
Dutch government grants amnesty for Armenian refugees being sheltered under medieval law
A family of asylum seekers who faced deportation from the Netherlands has been given a reprieve after a church staged an epic 96-day service to shield them from immigration officials.
Sasun and Anousche Tamrazyan and their children Hayarpi, 21, Warduhi, 19, and Seyran, 15, have received assurances from Dutch officials that they will be among hundreds of families granted permanent residency under an amnesty agreed by the coalition government this week.
The Tamrazyans have lived in the Netherlands for nine years, after fleeing their native Armenia when Sasun received death threats because of his political activism.
In October they were notified that they were to be removed from their adopted country, after their application for political asylum was rejected following years of legal wrangling.
But a medieval-era Dutch law that bans authorities from entering a place of worship during a service allowed the family to claim refuge in the Bethel Protestant church in The Hague.
For 96 days, they have been living in the church while around 450 pastors from various denominations and lay volunteers preached for a total of 2,327 hours, CNN reports.
The reprieve, expected to affect 630 child refugees and their families, was agreed late on Tuesday night following “intense debate within the coalition government”, says The Guardian.
The families had applied for a “children’s pardon”, a special dispensation which can be granted in cases where children have lived in the Netherlands for more than five years, but which has been “patchily applied”, adds the newspaper.
The new amnesty, agreed by lawmakers from Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s centre-right party and coalition partners from progressive and right-wing parties, will see the children’s pardon taken off the statute books.
However, the head of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service will be given discretionary powers in future cases similar to that of the Tamrazyans.
Theo Hettema, chairman of the General Council of Protestant Ministers in the Netherlands, applauded the government’s decision.
“We are extremely grateful for a safe future for hundreds of refugee families in the Netherlands,” he said.
“For months we have held up hope, and now that hope is taking shape.”