A Dutch church’s 96-day service to shield a refugee family comes to a happy conclusion

For many, the Tamrazyan family’s story inspires hope.
For many, the Tamrazyan family’s story inspires hope.
Image: AP Photo/Peter Dejong
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Fore more than three months, a small Protestant church in The Hague conducted round-the-clock religious services to protect an Armenian refugee family from deportation. Yesterday, the church announced that the family had received a permanent residence permit in the Netherlands.

From Oct. 26 to Jan. 30, supporters of the Tamrazyans attended and led rites at Bethel church in order to prevent immigration authorities from deporting the family, because an ancient Dutch law prevents police from entering a place of worship while a service is in progress. According to the church, this resulted in 2,307 hours of worship and attracted more than 12,000 visitors, nearly 1,000 preachers, and 150 volunteers.

At the end of the marathon church service in January, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte’s center-right government announced it would review the cases of 700 children and their families who, like the Tamrazyans, had been living in the Netherlands for years awaiting asylum decisions and faced the threat of deportation. As part of that amnesty, the government announced the Tamrazyans would be pardoned and given the right to stay. The church service ended and the family returned to an asylum center to await a final decision on their status, which came yesterday.

Warduhi, Seyran, and Hayarpi Tamrazyan.
Warduhi, Seyran, and Hayarpi Tamrazyan.
Image: Maarten Boersema, Bethel Church via AP

“When I saw this news, I was baffled with joy,” says Theo Hettema, chairman of the General Council of Protestant Ministers. “We are very glad for the Tamrazyan family and grateful to God. We wish that many other families will be given a safe future in the Netherlands and we will continue to bring the fate of refugees to the attention of the government.”

The happy ending to this story comes at a tense time for Dutch politics. The rise of far-right parties has brought anti-immigration rhetoric into the mainstream and created a dangerous environment for many refugees in the Netherlands. But Bethel church showed the Tamrazyan family, and many others, a different side to the country. This was reflected in the first stanza of a poem written in Dutch by Hayarpi Tamrazyan, the family’s eldest daughter, during her time in the church (and roughly translated below):

It is wonderful
How You did everything
Through hundreds of people
Through hundreds of hearts