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.