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Non-stop church service ends as refugee family is pardoned

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Non-stop church service ends as refugee family is pardoned
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A church service running 24 hours a day over the course of 96 days in the Netherlands finally came to an end on Wednesday after the refugee family it was protecting from deportation was pardoned.

The Bethel Church in The Hague sheltered the Tamrazyan family, who are political refugees from Armenia, by conducting more than 2,000 hours of continuous service since October 26.

Under Dutch law, authorities are not allowed to enter a church while prayers are ongoing.

Pastor Axel Wicke vowed to conduct prayers "around the clock, day and night," while the family's asylum case continued, which led to volunteer pastors undertaking a relay-style handover to keep the service running.

Following Wednesday's pardon, the Dutch government said it would review hundreds more asylum cases, saying it believed the majority would eventually be granted residency.

Euronews spoke to Theo Hettema, the chairman of the Protestant Church Council in The Hague, who said he was "extremely grateful for the safe future for hundreds of refugee families in the Netherlands."

"For months we have held up hope and now, that hope is taking shape. We are deeply impressed by all the pastors, volunteers and others who have participated in this church shelter," he said.

After initially hearing the news that the Tamrazyans' case would be reconsidered, Hettema said he thought it was "too good to be true," and that he was worried that the family may get arrested during the period of reconsideration.

"The family has been traumatized by promises made before, so I wanted to do everything to make sure they would not get hurt again," he said.

The Tamrazyan family also released a short statement on Twitter, thanking everyone who contributed to the service.

"We carried on together, with all the volunteers, pastors, visitors, etc," the tweet said.

READ MORE: Who are the Tamrazyan family, who are sheltering inside The Hague's Bethel church?

But naturally, such a long service could not play out without a hitch.

"The most difficult job was to fill the [service] schedule for the early mornings between 3am-8am," Hettema told Euronews via email. "But we managed to do so, thanks to the input of some incredibly committed people."

'A dark moment'

Hettema also noted a "very dark moment" in mid-December, when Dutch junior justice minister Mark Harbers said he would not use his discretionary authority to help the family.

"He did so via the media, while even not bothering to address the family directly and he simply disregarded our witnesses, sources, and arguments," Hettema said.

Touching on what spurred him on to continue to help, he added: "It was our commitment to the family that could not be given up that gave us the strength to continue, together with the simple fact that no Christian would come up with the idea of sending away a family the weekend before Christmas."

Back to normal

As the church prepared to transition back to a regular service, pastor Wicke marked the occasion with his own tweet.

"After more than three months, the front door of Bethel church is OPEN!"

And while Hettema noted his pride in everyone who took part in the 96-day service, he said he hoped it would not be necessary to do anything similar again.

"This church service was a unique constellation of urgency from a particular family, an unsatisfactory political situation that has lasted too long, the abilities of our local church to host the family, and the very first time that the police required an actual church service in a church building as a condition for church sanctuary," he said.

"I do not know if such a constellation will appear again, and I hope that it would not be necessary.

"It was a tremendous event, that has shaped the lives of many people. Not only that a church service in a small church building has effected a major change in Dutch politics, but also that cooperating, encouraging and praying together has brought people together," he said.