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Dutch church holds ongoing service to protect refugee family from deportation

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Dutch church holds ongoing service to protect refugee family from deportation
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A church in the Netherlands has been holding an ongoing 24-hour service for the last month to prevent a refugee family from deportation.

The Bethel Church in The Hague, which is currently sheltering the refugee family, has been conducting more than 700 hours of continuous service since October 26 as authorities, under Dutch law, cannot enter the church while prayers are ongoing.

The refugee family

The Tamrazyan family fled Armenia in 2009 over fears for their safety, due to the father's political activism. For the last three years, the family have been members of the Gereformeerde Kerk (GKV) church in the coastal municipality of Katwijk, residing in a local centre for asylum seekers.

But in mid-September, the family learned of a deportation order against them, sparking an appeal for help. One of the children, 21-year-old Hayarpi Tamrazyan, posted a video to social media, pleading to several Dutch politicians.

"This week I can be expelled from the Netherlands after 9 years," she said. "On behalf of my brother and sister, I ask you for help."

Church shelter

GKV Katwijk said the family took shelter in the halls of the church building shortly thereafter, saying they no longer felt safe in the asylum centre.

"We hope the family gets a permit to stay in the Netherlands for two reasons," GKV Katwijk said in a statement to Euronews. The father of the family runs a great chance of being killed in Armenia. And the children have been living in the Netherlands for nine years and are rooted here."

Despite the church providing shelter, the family were still in danger of deportation from Dutch authorities, which led to the Bethel Church in The Hague stepping in to help.

Bethel Church pastor Axel Wicke said the church welcomed the Tamrazyan family on October 26 and would conduct prayers "around the clock, day and night," while an asylum case continued.

The continuous prayers then ensued, with volunteering pastors undertaking a relay-style handover to keep the service running 24 hours a day.

Throughout the month, supportive members of the religious community in the Netherlands have been posting their contributions and pictures of their services to social media in order to raise awareness of the family's plight.

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Wicke said he was "overwhelmed" by the response and support sent from all over the world, adding, "lots of people have had enough with the demonisation of people fleeing war and oppression."

Hayarpi Tamrazyan echoed Wicke's sentiment, tweeting her gratitude to all the volunteers that have already taken part.

Reaction

There has been a global response to the church's initiative, both inside and outside of the religious community, and the hashtag #KerkasielBethel has been widely used to show support.

One user, who visited the church, shared his "beautiful" experience seeing a community "try to ease the misery of a family."

"You become a better person when you step inside," he wrote.

Kelly Merks, an American citizen living in The Hague, said she attended the 24-hour service on Sunday after hearing about the initiative from a friend.

Describing a "warm and welcoming" atmosphere to Euronews, Merks said she was on the way to a local shop to see if there was any food items she could donate to the family.

"We were welcomed at the door by a Bethel community member who told us they were good on food but encouraged us to come in and visit the service for a while, so we did."

Ongoing service

As the service entered its fifth week, the church was still in need of volunteers to take part. Theo Hettema, the chairman of the general council of the Protestant Ministers, took to Facebook to make the call.

"The relay service probably still has to run for a while," he wrote, specifically encouraging "nightowls" to get in touch.