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International | Protestant church in the Netherlands ends 96-day service to protect migrant family
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 2/05/19, 02:46 pm

A church in the Netherlands last week ended a collaborative 96-day worship service it started to protect a refugee family. The Dutch governing coalition agreed last Tuesday to reassess the family’s case, along with those of 700 children who were raised in the country as their parents sought asylum.

The five members of the Tamrazyan family fled in October to Bethel International Church in The Hague after receiving their third deportation order. The Tamrazyans arrived from Armenia nine years ago, saying their lives were at risk in their home country, where the father worked as a political activist. The Dutch government denied their application for a “children’s pardon,” a permit for families with children who have lived in the country for more than five years.

Relying on an obscure, old Dutch law that bars officials from interrupting church services, Bethel’s leaders began a round-the-clock service to protect the family. It quickly grew into a national movement with more than 1,000 pastors, priests, and congregants from across Europe and at least one U.S. pastor from Ohio participating.

“I hope it’s a new way of being a church—a new way of having an impact on society, a new way of standing up for vulnerable people,” Derk Stegeman, one of the service organizers, told The New York Times. Bethel belongs to the U.S.-based Church of God, a Pentecostal denomination aligned with the National Association of Evangelicals.

Theo Hettema, chairman of the Protestant Church Council in The Hague, told Euronews the community sometimes struggled to fill in the 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. worship slots. “We are deeply impressed by all the pastors, volunteers, and others who have participated in this church shelter,” he said.

About 250,000 people signed a petition asking authorities to grant more pardons to families in similar conditions. Since 2013, the Dutch government has approved only 100 of 1,360 applications seeking the children’s pardon.

Under last week’s deal among ruling coalition parties, the government will take another look at existing children’s pardon cases. Dutch public broadcaster NOS reported that about 90 percent of the families will receive stays. As part of the compromise, the government plans to end the children’s pardon program once it has processed the current cases.

The deal stands in contrast to other European countries’ responses to persistent migratory flow from the Middle East and Africa. Populist governments that promise anti-migratory measures are increasingly securing leadership in countries like Austria and Hungary.

In Sicily, prosecutors have charged Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini with kidnapping after he prevented a rescue boat with 177 migrants from docking for about a week. “I am convinced I acted in Italy’s best interests and in full respect of my mandate,” he said. “I will do it again.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban last month called for “anti-migration” politicians to take control of the European Parliament and council, where national leaders make continentwide policies, after the spring election. “The party structures, traditionally left or right, are being taken over by a different dimension—those for migration and against immigration,” he said.

Associated Press/Photo by Ng Han Guan Associated Press/Photo by Ng Han Guan Police officers near a suspected prison camp in the western Xinjiang region of China in November 2017

Chinese Uighurs describe torture

Accounts of China’s abuse of Uighur Muslims continue to surface. The Chinese government initially denied mass detainment of Uighurs and then defended the prison camps as “vocational education” centers. Last week, a Uighur woman, identified as Ayshambul, described the detainment centers to Radio Free Asia and said she continues to “dream about the suffering in the camp.”

“There were armed guards stationed above us every five meters. … We had no freedom in there. We weren’t allowed to talk to each other, and there were cameras everywhere, even in the bathroom,” Ayshamgul said. “It was called a ‘reeducation center,’ but you can call it a prison.” Detainees were told guards would shoot rule breakers.

She also described torture: “Once every two days we were tormented and forced to admit our ‘wrongdoings.’ Some of those among us had their fingernails pulled out. Sometimes people were taken away during the night and we would never see them again.”

This month, Chinese officials denied another woman’s testimony about the camp, calling it a “deliberate lie.” —Julia A. Seymour

Associated Press/Photo by Jerome Delay (file( Associated Press/Photo by Jerome Delay (file( A security guard at a UN compound in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Mass graves unearthed in Congo

A United Nations mission uncovered more than 50 mass graves in two towns in the Democratic Republic of Congo following intercommunal clashes in the region in December.

The conflict began when members of the Banunu ethnic group buried a traditional chief on the land of the Batenda ethnic group. The UN Joint Human Rights Office said at least 535 people died in four attacks and 111 others sustained injuries. About 16,000 villagers fled the region.

The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONSUCO) did not rule out more burial sites. The group said the attacks destroyed 967 properties, including schools, churches, and health centers. MONSUCO condemned the violence and said it was willing to work with local authorities to “bring justice to the victims and promote reconciliation between the two communities.” —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Moises Castillo Associated Press/Photo by Moises Castillo El Salvador President-elect Nayib Bukele with his wife, Gabriela, at a Sunday news conference in San Salvador

El Salvador enters new political era

A young, one-time mayor San Salvador won a landslide victory in Sunday’s presidential election in El Salvador. Nayib Bukele, 37, emerged with more than 53 percent of the vote, running as a candidate of the Grand Alliance for National Unity party. He joined the small, conservative party last year after the ruling leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) expelled him.

Bukele promised to modernize the government and tackle corruption. But his party secured only 10 seats in the Legislative Assembly, short of the 43 it needs to pass laws.

The FMLN and the Nationalist Republican Alliance have dominated politics in the country since a 1992 peace deal that ended a civil war. But both parties are rife with corruption. Salvadorans in search of a better life have joined some of the migrant caravans heading for the United States through Mexico. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Oded Balilty Associated Press/Photo by Oded Balilty Retired Israeli military chief Benny Gantz at his campaign launch in Tel Aviv last week

Israeli military chief challenges Netanyahu

Former Israeli military chief Benny Gantz last week announced his bid to replace longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In his speech, Gantz accused Netanyahu, a fourth-term prime minister, of dividing the country and being power-hungry. Gantz’ Resilience Party is the first strong challenger to Netanyahu’s Likud party in the upcoming elections in April, although Likud still maintains the lead in polls. Four Israeli opinion polls showed Resilience Party running second.

Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are facing corruption charges. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit last week said he faces “no impediment” to publishing his decision on Netanyahu’s case ahead of the vote. —O.O.

Ethiopia bars Syrians from begging

Ethiopian authorities last month banned Syrian refugees from begging on the streets over security concerns, as the country deals with an influx of migrants. Yemane Gebremeskel, deputy head of the Ethiopian Immigration Office, said about 560 Syrians entered the country between mid-August and mid-December 2018 on tourist and transit visas. Only 395 of them left.

Gebremeskel explained begging is allowed in Ethiopia, but it is illegal to enter the country as a tourist and resort to begging. Ethiopia currently hosts 900,000 refugees and migrants, the majority of them from Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan. —O.O.

Death toll rises from Brazil dam break

The number of deaths from a dam collapse in southeastern Brazil stood at 121 people Monday, as 226 others remained missing. The dam, which belongs to the Vale mining company, collapsed Jan. 25, burying nearby communities in thick, reddish-brown mining sludge.

Lt. Pedro Aihara with the Minas Gerais state fire department said responders will use heavy equipment and sniffer dogs to continue the search for bodies buried beneath hardened mud.

Authorities arrested five people, including three Vale employees and two staff members of a German company that inspected the dam. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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