Hayarpi Tamrazyan (right) from Armenia attends a service in the Bethel church in The Hague | Photo: Getty Images/AFP.K.van Weel
Hayarpi Tamrazyan (right) from Armenia attends a service in the Bethel church in The Hague | Photo: Getty Images/AFP.K.van Weel

A small Dutch church's hard work has paid off — the government will review hundreds of children's rejected asylum applications. Dutch law prohibits authorities from entering a church building while a service is underway.

A Dutch Protestant church on Wednesday ended a non-stop service that it had started in October to protect a family of Armenian asylum seekers, after the government announced changes to its immigration policy.

The Bethel Church, a small chapel in a Hague residential neighborhood, announced the end of the three-month-long service a day after the Dutch ruling coalition announced it would review hundreds of asylum applications by children who were previously rejected.

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Thousands of worshippers had been praying nonstop to protect the Tamrazyan family — parents, their two daughters and a son — from deportation. The last service was held on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. (1230 UTC) and was followed by a party.

"Tuesday's political deal now offers families like the Tamrazyans a safe future perspective in the Netherlands," Church official Theo Hettema said in a statement.

"We are incredibly grateful for a safe future in the Netherlands for hundreds of refugee families," Hettema added.

Death threats in Armenia

The Tamrazyan family fled Armenia after the father received death threats over his political activities. They have been in the Netherlands for nine years.

The family took shelter at the church after Dutch authorities turned down their request for asylum but appealed on the grounds that it would affect the children, aged 21, 19 and 14.

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The parliamentary deal, which was opposed by Prime Minister Mark Rutte's center-right VVD party, will now examine the applications of some 700 children who were born and raised in the Netherlands while their parents were applying for asylum.

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The current group will be reassessed and it is expected that some 90 percent of them will be allowed to stay after the reevaluation, Dutch public broadcaster NOS reported.

Because Dutch authorities could not deport parents if their children stayed, up to 1,300 children and adults could receive asylum, NOS added.

The Tamrazyan family was among those cases, church spokesman Derk Stegeman told the ANP news agency "after being assured by various coalition MPs." It is a "reason for joy" Stegeman said.

law/amp (AFP, AP)

First published: January 30, 2019

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