AN ARMENIAN family seeking asylum in the Netherlands are being protected from deportation by a 24-hour continuous church service.
Hundreds of clergy and pastors from across the Netherlands are taking part, in rotation, in a service at Bethel International Church, in the city of The Hague.
The effort, which has already lasted eight weeks, is to stop Dutch immigration officials from entering the building to detain and then deport the Tamrazyan family, who have been seeking asylum in the Netherlands since 2010 after fleeing Armenia for political reasons.
An obscure Dutch law prevents police from disrupting an ongoing church service to arrest someone in the congregation; so a rotating group of clergy have ensured that the services at Bethel — where the family has sought sanctuary — never stop.
More than 350 pastors from more than 20 denominations across the Netherlands have now volunteered to take part in the services, The New York Times reported.
“I often think we’re entering times with less and less solidarity,” the Revd Jessa van der Vaart, a minister at the oldest church in Amsterdam, told the newspaper. She undertook a one-hour car journey to The Hague to take on a shift at Bethel earlier this month. “But then this initiative is all about solidarity, and that gives me hope. It’s about practising what we preach.”
The initiative began in the seaside town of Katwijk, where the Tamrazyans lived while they spent years battling the Dutch immigration authorities through the courts, requesting permission to stay in the Netherlands.
A spokesman for the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security declined to comment on the specific case, but told The New York Times that families such as the Tamrazyans could qualify for the amnesties available to those who have been in the Netherlands for more than five years only if they had already co-operated with the authorities.
The family, who fear for their lives should they be sent back to Armenia, instead took refuge in a church, and then later moved to the better-resourced congregation of Bethel, in The Hague.
Besides keeping the services going around the clock, volunteers at Bethel also provide education for the three Tamrazyan children. In a blog, one of the children wrote: “I often think the only place where I am safe is the church. It really feels like a refuge.”
The efforts of the pastors has not changed the Government’s intention ultimately to send the family back to Armenia. The Minister for Asylum and Migration Affairs, Mark Harbers, said during a TV interview that the “future of the Tamrazyan family cannot be in the Netherlands”.
A pastor from Bethel, Derk Stegeman, said that his church and clergy colleagues were prepared to keep up the service for as long as necessary.