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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Dutch church holds month-long service to avoid refugees’ deportation

An Armenian family is being sheltered in a church to escape a deportation order

A cross at the Anglican Church in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain. EPA
A cross at the Anglican Church in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain. EPA

A church in the Netherlands has been holding service around the clock for the past month to prevent Dutch authorities from entering the premises and enforcing the deportation of an Armenian family that fled the country in 2009.

The Bethel Church in The Hague has been sheltering the refugee family since October 26. Under Dutch law, authorities are not allowed to enter a church if religious celebrations are ongoing.

“The purpose of the “Asylum Church” is to create [a place of] safety for the family,” the institution said in a statement. “We invite politicians to discuss with us the family’s fate.”

"We do all this by continuously praying, singing, listening to sermons and worshipping," Reverend Axel Wicke, a priest at the Bethel church, tweeted.

The Tamrazyan family fled Armenia in 2009 due to Mr Tamrazyan’s involvement in political activism. For the last three years, the family have been residing in a centre for asylum seekers in the coastal municipality of Katwijk.

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A deportation order was signed off in September despite the family’s claims that their lives may be at risk in Armenia and that the three children have been living in the Netherlands for the past nine years and are well rooted in the country.

They were previously granted asylum by the courts, but that decision was overturned after the Government challenged the ruling.

The so-called "children's pardon", which gives residency to refugee children and their families who have been in the country for more than five years, was also rejected this year.

Of the 1,360 requests for a children's pardon filed between May 2013 and April 2016, only 100 were granted in the Netherlands.

Twenty-one-year-old Hayarpi Tamrazyan posted a video on social media in which he pled with Dutch politicians to revoke the order.

Members of the religious community have also posted pictures using the hashtag #KerkasielBethel in order to raise awareness of the family's situation.

The church vowed to continue praying until the case is resolved and encouraged volunteers to step forward to keep the service going.