Church Ends Nearly 100 Days Of Continuous Worship Service After Asylum Policy Changes

A Netherlands church has held a 24/7 worship service since October to try to prevent the deportation of an asylum-seeking family.

A Netherlands church has ended a round-the-clock worship service it held for nearly 100 days in protest of the country’s asylum policies, after the government agreed to new rules that give certain families’ asylum applications another chance.

On Wednesday, the Protestant Church of The Hague concluded a worship service that has been going on nonstop at a Hague chapel since Oct. 26. The church had used an old Dutch law that bars police from entering houses of worship during religious services to prevent the deportation of the Tamrazyans, an Armenian family of five asylum-seekers that has lived on the grounds of Bethel chapel for the past three months.

The service wrapped up in a packed sanctuary, with speeches from Hayarpi Tamrazyan, the family’s eldest daughter, and the Rev. Theo Hettema, a spokesperson for the Protestant Church of The Hague’s asylum efforts.

Hayarpi Tamrazyan, a 21-year-old Armenian asylum-seeker (right) gets a hug from spokesperson Florine Kuethe inside the Bethel chapel in The Hague, Netherlands, in December.
Hayarpi Tamrazyan, a 21-year-old Armenian asylum-seeker (right) gets a hug from spokesperson Florine Kuethe inside the Bethel chapel in The Hague, Netherlands, in December.

The standoff between the church and the government centered around a policy called the “children’s pardon,” which allowed children who have lived in the Netherlands for over five years to be eligible for a residence permit, if they also fulfill other requirements. Families applying for amnesty in the Netherlands are also expected to comply with the government’s attempts to send them back to their home countries.

The Tamrazyan family, composed of parents and three children, have lived in the country for about nine years, while waiting for their asylum application and appeals to be processed through Dutch courts. In 2018, the Netherlands’ highest administrative court ruled that the family had to return to Armenia, which the Dutch government considers to be a safe country, according to The Associated Press.

The church says the Tamrazyans fear going back to Armenia because the father of the family, Sasun, had been threatened for his political activism.

On Tuesday, Dutch political leaders reached a compromise on the children’s pardon that relaxes rules for some existing asylum cases. The compromise permits Dutch authorities to re-review the cases of children whose applications were rejected because they refused to comply with the Netherlands’ efforts to deport them, the AP reports.

The policy change will affect approximately 700 kids, about 90 percent of whom will be allowed to stay, according to the NL Times, an English language Netherlands news website. The children’s parents will also be allowed to remain in the country.

Dutch authorities have agreed not to deport these families, such as the Tamrazyans, during the review period, the AP reports.

At the same time, the political compromise dictates the children’s pardon program itself will be terminated after the current cases are handled. The Netherlands’ immigration and naturalization service will also reportedly receive extra funding to speed up the asylum application process, to ensure that new groups of asylum-seeking children won’t become rooted in the Netherlands while waiting for the results of their petitions.

“What we have done is build a system for the future where you do not give people hope for a residency permit who should not have hope,” said Mark Harbers, the Netherlands’ minister of migration, according to a translation by the NL Times. “You have to resign yourself to what the judge decides and not think that because your case gets [a] lot of attention afterwards, you will still be allowed to stay.”

The Protestant Church of The Hague, a local branch of the national Protestant Church in the Netherlands, welcomed news of the compromise.

“The political agreement that has been reached this week provides the Tamrazyan family and over 600 other children with a future in our country,” the church said in a statement on its website.

For the past three months, over 400 ministers and lay people have helped conduct services at Bethel Church, the chapel and community center in the Hague where the Tamrazyans have been staying. Thousands of visitors have streamed in and out of the church to attend the services ― ranging from about two people in the middle of the night to about 100 on Sunday mornings.

The church announced Wednesday that it will hold a private church service and party at a later time to celebrate the successful end of its efforts.

Hettema told Reuters that the church is worried about the consequences the updated policy will have on future immigrants. Still, he said, “We are incredibly grateful that hundreds of refugee families will have a safe future in the Netherlands.”

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