Multi-month Dutch church service to protect migrants ends after policy change: NPR

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A month-long service ended at a church in The Hague, The Netherlands.

Koen Van Weel / AFP / Getty Images


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Koen Van Weel / AFP / Getty Images


A month-long service ended at a church in The Hague, The Netherlands.

Koen Van Weel / AFP / Getty Images

Every day, for more than three months, a religious service in a small Dutch chapel took place 24 hours a day. The pastors worked in shifts. Loved volunteers.

Bethel Church in The Hague began non-stop service on October 26 to protect an Armenian immigrant family from deportation, under a Dutch law that prohibits police from interrupting a religious service to proceed with an arrest.

For 96 days, the Tamrazyan family lived in a red brick church in a residential area. The family of five have resided in the Netherlands for almost nine years since fleeing Armenia, the Associated Press reports, and the country’s highest court ruled last year that they must return .

But the service ended on Wednesday, in response to a change in government policy that provides temporary protection to the family, including parents, two daughters and a son, among other migrants.

The ruling coalition in the Netherlands said on Tuesday it would examine the cases of hundreds of young migrants whose asylum claims were rejected because they failed to cooperate with deportation orders – cooperation is qualification for amnesty in the Netherlands, The New York Times reports.

Justice and Security Secretary of State Mark Harbers told lawmakers on Wednesday that families would be allowed to stay in the Netherlands while their children’s cases were processed, AP reports. It is not known how long the exam will take. Most children should be eligible for amnesty, according to Harbers.

“We are extremely grateful for a secure future for hundreds of refugee families in the Netherlands,” Theo Hettema, a church official, said in a statement. “For months we held onto hope and now that hope is taking shape.”

Hundreds of pastors from the Netherlands, Germany, France and Belgium toured the church between October and January to continue the service, reports The Guardian. Pastors said they were participating on behalf of all children of asylum seekers, not just the Tamrazyan family.

“The Protestant Church in The Hague respects court decisions,” the community center wrote in a statement in November, “But is faced with a dilemma: the choice between respecting the government and protecting the rights of the child.”

At the end of the service on Wednesday, one of the Tamrazyan children, Hayarpi, read a poem. She cataloged her experience in poems posted on a blog. A poem from December says:

“24 hours a day, 7 days a week
We praise and worship God
He makes the flowers grow in my heart
it makes me grateful
In a way that I’ve never been before. “

The continuous service – which lasted about 2,300 hours – failed to secure the title of the world’s longest religious ceremony. This record goes to a multi-year mask festival in Mali, according to the Guinness Book of Records.

Churches in the United States cannot offer the same level of legal protection to migrants as the Bethel Church: the United States government has the right to enter places of worship with a warrant, as reported by NPR, and it is illegal to harbor someone labeled as a fugitive.

But religious institutions have always served as de facto sanctuaries for immigrants, in part because of the lens of immigration officials entering a place of worship. It is federal policy to avoid immigration enforcement in “sensitive places” – such as churches and schools – without urgent circumstances.

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