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This Dutch Church Held A 96-Day-Long Nonstop Service To Stop A Refugee Family From Getting Deported

The church took advantage of an obscure Dutch law that forbids police to interrupt church services.

Last updated on January 31, 2019, at 11:59 a.m. ET

Posted on January 31, 2019, at 11:20 a.m. ET

A church in the Netherlands has successfully prevented the deportation of an Armenian refugee family by holding an around-the-clock service that lasted 96 days.

Bethel Church in The Hague took advantage of an obscure Dutch law that forbids police to interrupt church services.

Koen Van Weel / AFP / Getty Images

The law turns churches into a kerkasiel (church asylum) and becomes a place of refuge to people within the church as long as the service is ongoing.

It was first used in the 1970s to protect 182 Moroccans who were threatened with deportation. The kerkasiel action at that time included three churches based in Amsterdam, Utrecht, and The Hague.

Three years and several hunger strikes later, the 182 Moroccans were granted the right to stay in the Netherlands.

The Bethel Church service started on Oct. 26, to protect the Tamrazyan family who have been living in the Netherlands for nine years.

Peter Wassing

Hayarpi, 21, Warduhi, 19, and Seyran, 15, and their parents had fled Armenia for the Netherlands in 2010 for political reasons.

A month before the service marathon started, Hayarpi had posted a video on Twitter asking people to help child refugees like herself.

Lieve @gertjansegers en @JoelVoordewind Mijn naam is Hayarpi. Jullie kennen mij als lid van jullie partij. Deze week kan ik na 9 jaar in Nederland uitgezet worden. Namens mijn broertje en zusje vraag ik jullie om hulp

Hayarpi and her siblings would have previously been eligible under Kinderpardon (Children’s Pardon) but the law was changed in 2013, which made it much harder for applications to be successful.

“I’m asking help for me, my brother, and my sister,” she said in a video. “You have the power. Please use it to help us and the 400 children like us. We are innocent.”

The government had repeatedly tried to deny the family asylum and was only successful on its third attempt in six years.

Niels Wenstedt / AFP / Getty Images

Following the ruling, the family took refuge in a church in Katwijk before moving to Bethel Church when the first church ran out of resources.

Koen Van Weel / AFP / Getty Images

More than 550 pastors from about 20 denominations across Europe rotated through Bethel Church to keep the service going, according to the New York Times.

Met PKN Heusden bijdrage mogen leveren aan dienst van #KerkasielBethel wat bijzonder! Kerkmuren vallen weg, nu weer bidden voor @hayarpi_3 en alle andere kinderen #kinderpardon @kerkasiel @heusden_nieuws @gemheusden

“With the pastor of Protestant Church Heusden carrying out the service of #KerkasielBethel, how special! Church walls are falling, now again we pray for @hayarpi_3 and all the other children.”

The service drew visitors from across the country with many people bringing a range of supplies.

Ik zit in de trein op weg naar #kerkasielBethel en ik heb ongevraagd thee en koekjes meegenomen. Ik ga al voor de derde keer dus ik weet dat dat wel op komt. 😉

“I’m sitting on the train on my way to #kerkasielBethel and I have brought with me tea and biscuits. I am going for the third time so I know they will finish it.”

The church also provided psychological help for the family and taught the children, who were unable to leave the building to attend school or university.

Maarten Boersema / AP

More than 250,000 people also signed a petition started by presenter Tim Hofman calling for the government to make children’s asylum-seeker applications easier as it has led to 96% to 99% of applications being rejected.

On Tuesday, the Dutch government agreed to reassess the cases for up to 700 families who were listed for deportation, including the Tamrazyan family.

Koen Van Weel / AFP / Getty Images

Many of these families had lived in the country for more than a decade, according to the New York Times.

This means that refugee families will be able to apply to the Kinderpardon law that was previously tightened.

Upon finding out the news, Hayarpi told people at a press conference that, “There is a lot of hope for vulnerable people and there is light in their eyes.”

“Er is weer hoop voor kwetsbare mensen, er is weer glans in onze ogen”. @hayarpi_3 in de afsluitende viering van het #kerkasielbethel

After 96 days, Bethel Church closed and a sign on the door now reads, “Hooray! The church is closed.”

In a statement, church officials said that they were thankful for the safe arrival of hundreds of refugees in the Netherlands.

“For months, we have kept our hopes high, and now we have concrete hope,” they said, adding that hundreds of children and their parents can be grateful for the result.

They added that they were very impressed by all the pastors, volunteers, and others who took part in this kerkasiel.

BuzzFeed News has reached out to Bethel Church for comment.

The news was met with celebrations online.

Facebook: StekDenHaag

"What a beautiful day! Thankful!"

Facebook: StekDenHaag

“What we can be thankful for. Believe hope... and love. A human doesn’t need more than that.”

“This photo is everything.”

Follow @world on Instagram for more stories like this.

CORRECTION

Hayarpi Tamrazyan’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.

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