As immigration skeptics have seen their approval numbers rise in European polls since 2015, their demands for more deportations and fewer refugees have become part of the mainstream discourse. Some of those measures, including removal of criminals, were less controversial than other suggestions, such as a recent analysis asking whether war-torn Syria was already safe enough to return refugees there.
Amid the open legal and moral questions, some Europeans have taken matters into their own hands to stop what they consider to be violations of refugees' rights. In July, a Swedish student stopped the deportation of an Afghan asylum seeker by boarding the same plane but refusing to take her seat. After two hours, the live-streamed act of civil disobedience forced authorities to escort the 52-year old Afghan off the plane.
Now, a Protestant Dutch church has launched an even more expansive effort to prevent a family’s deportation to Armenia, a former Soviet republic near Turkey and Georgia. Since October, The Hague-based Bethel Church has held an uninterrupted service to prevent Dutch authorities from entering the premises and deporting the family living there. According to the country’s laws, police officers are not allowed to enter churches while services are ongoing.
“In the coming hours — day and night — people from all over the country will be serving in the Bethel neighborhood-and-church house,” an announcement on the church’s website has read since Oct. 26.
To the Bethel Church community, using that legal loophole appeared to be the only option after the Tamrazyan family was notified of their looming deportation in September. The family fled Armenia nine years ago because the father, Sasun Tamrazyan, started to receive death threats over his political activism, according to his claim for political asylum.
The family was initially granted asylum but was not allowed to stay beyond this year. Officials rejected the family’s request to make use of a pardon option for families who have lived in the Netherlands for more than five years. The Dutch Ministry of Justice did not respond to a request for comment.
Bethel community members told Dutch media outlets that their voluntary decision to organize a nonstop service was based on humanitarian considerations, and not on the family’s Christian beliefs.
Church officials said that the family’s request to be housed on their premises and the unwillingness of the government to change course had put them into a dilemma, forcing them to choose “between respect for the government and protecting the rights of a child.”
The church, they wrote in a statement, was seeking a dialogue with the government on the deportation of refugees who entered the country as minors.
“The children who are concerned are not at all to blame. We are there for them. And we are confident that ultimately our politicians want a human solution,” they wrote.
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