As It Happens

Dutch church holding 24/7 service to protect family from deportation

A church in the Netherlands has been holding a round-the-clock service for more than 700 hours in an effort to protect a family of refugees from deportation.

Netherlands law bars police from entering places of worship during religious services

Bethel Church in The Hague has been holding services for 700 hours straight to protect a refugee family living within its walls. (Bethel Church )
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Transcript

A church in the Netherlands has been holding a round-the-clock service for more than a month in an effort to protect a family of refugees from deportation.

An Armenian family of five living in the Bethel Church in The Hague is slated to be expelled from the country immediately — but under Dutch law, police are prohibited from entering a place of worship while religious services are underway. 

So Bethel church officials have held continuous services since Oct. 28. 

"We are not doing it on our own," Bethel pastor Derk Stegeman told As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner. 

More than 400 pastors from other churches all over the country have pitched in to keep it going, he said.

"We started with a small group and it was in secret that we prepared this service," Stegeman said.

"But when we had started it and we asked for help, we were overwhelmed by enormous movement in our church."

'It's a big job'

Sasun​ Tamrazyan fled Armenia nine years ago with his wife Anousche and their three children, Hayarpi, Warduhi and Seyran, after he says he faced death threats for his political activism.

They were previously granted asylum, but that decision was overturned on appeal by the government.

As It Happens has reached out to the country's Ministry of Justice and Security for comment.

Bethel Church is providing sanctuary to an Armenian family slated for deportation by the Dutch government. (Bethel Church)

At Bethel, pastors have been signing up voluntarily for shifts online, and showing up at the church with worshippers, choirs and even bands, he said. 

"For us, it's a big job, but it's also a fruitful experience and there's a lot of joy and a lot of people are meeting one another," Stegeman said. 

"But for the family, it's really heavy, all the uncertainly about the future."

'We are trying to prove that it can be different'

Stegeman said the Tamrazyans, while gracious, have told him the church doesn't have to go to all this trouble on their behalf. 

"And I answered always that, 'We are not doing it for you.' For us, we are doing it to show to ourselves and to our community, to our government, that civilization and love in life and civilization, it's not by expelling people, expelling children," Stegeman said.

"So we are trying to prove that it can be different."

The government has agreed to discuss the issue with the church, Stegeman said, but so far the Tamrazyans remain on the deportation list. 

But Stegeman said his community will just keep going — no matter how long it takes.

"I do not fear that we cannot uphold this service," he said.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Kevin Robertson.

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