04:39 GMT15 July 2020
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    A church in the Netherlands has been holding a continuous five-week service in order to shelter an Armenian family from deportation. Dutch law prohibits authorities from operating in places where a religious service is being held, so the family is safe as long as the service continues.

    Bethel Church, a Protestant house of worship in The Hague, began its normal church service on October 26 — and never stopped. Pastors hand off their liturgy to the next one in line in a sort of ecclesiastical filibuster designed to prevent the Tamrazyan family — two parents and three children — from being forcibly sent back to their native Armenia.

    "There are already more than 450 different priests, pastors, deacons, elders from around the country, every denomination, wanting to be put on the rotation to participate in this service," Axel Wicke, Bethel's pastor, told the New York Times on Thursday.

    "Even from abroad we've gotten help — there have been sermons held in English, French and German," he said. "It's quite moving to us. I often see a pastor handing over the service to another pastor of another denomination who they would ordinarily not have anything to do with, liturgically."

    ​The Tamrazyans' potential deportation comes at the end of a six-year legal battle. The family fled the former Soviet republic for the Low Counties nine years ago after the father received death threats for his political activism. However, his political persuasion is unknown.

    While they were initially granted asylum by a Dutch court, the government appealed the decision twice, finally winning a ruling that it could deport the Tamrazyans. The family then tried to get a "children's pardon," a permit that allows refugees with children who've been in the country for more than five years to stay. That application was denied: as Quartz notes, only 100 of the 1,360 applications for this pardon have been granted in the past five years.

    Once the Tamrazyans learned of their deportation order, they sought asylum in nearby places of worship, Quartz noted, eventually arriving at Bethel Church after it returned their inquiry, offering to help. And there they have stayed.

    The Dutch government refused comment on the case. "Our policy is that we do not make any statements about individual cases," Lennart Wegewijs, a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice and Security, which handles immigration matters, told the NYT.

    Deportation of refugees has prompted others to step up and take action where their governments will not, too. Back in July, Sputnik reported that a young Swedish woman named Elin Ersson held up a flight from Gothenburg to Istanbul once she realized an Afghan man on the plane was being deported from Sweden. By livestreaming her protest as she refused to sit down, which stopped the plane from being able to take off, she was able to get the man removed from the flight.


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    family, shelter, service, church, refugees, deportation, Armenia, Netherlands, The Hague
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