The Slatest

Church All Day and All Night, for 96 Days: Congregation’s Pro-Refugee Stunt Worked—Sort Of

Young woman recites text from a prayer book during a church service.
Hayarpi Tamrazyan participates in the Bethel church’s round-the-clock religious service, held to prevent her family from being deported. KOEN VAN WEEL/Getty Images

A continuous 24-7 worship service, held in a Dutch protestant church to prevent the deportation of an Armenian family seeking asylum in the Netherlands, has ended after 96 days. But the compromise that gave the Tamrazyan family a second chance could likely strip hundreds of children of the opportunity to have their asylum cases considered by the Dutch government.

Under Dutch law, authorities cannot enter a church during religious service. The Bethel Church in the Hague began its round-the-clock service on Oct. 25 to shield the Tamrazyan family, which had lived in the Netherlands for nine years, after their political asylum claim was rejected. The Tamrazyans, who have three children—Hayarpi, Warduhi, and Seyran—had applied for asylum under the so-called children’s pardon law. It allows children and unaccompanied minors who have lived in the Netherlands for at least five years to apply for a residence permit. If the request is granted, children’s immediate family can stay, too.

After weeks of political strife, the four-party ruling coalition in the Dutch Parliament agreed to review an estimated 700 previously rejected applications of child asylum-seekers.

“The expectation is that a large number of the rejected children will be eligible” for a residency permit, Mark Harbers, the government minister in charge of immigration, said on Tuesday. This means that the Tamrazyans will likely be allowed to remain in the country.

Not all families were so lucky. The Grigoryans, another Armenian family with three young children, were deported from the Netherlands on Jan. 21 while negotiations about the fate of rejected asylum-seekers were ongoing. In another high-profile case in September, two young Armenian children ran away from their Dutch home to avoid deportation.

For the Tamrazyans, the efforts of the Bethel Church community resulted in a miraculous outcome. Yet, the agreement reached by the four ruling parties does not bode well for future asylum seekers. After the 700 rejected cases, the Tamrazyans among them, are reassessed, the children’s pardon legislation will be abolished, although the head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service will retain discretionary authority to resolve similar cases. In addition, the number of recognized asylum-seekers selected by the U.N. that the Netherlands will take in each year will be reduced by a third, from 750 to 500. The Immigration and Naturalization Service will also receive a budget increase in order to expedite asylum procedures and ensure that children whose cases are under review do not stay in the country too long. MP Bram van Oijk of the Green Left Party called the agreement “miserly horse trading” in a tweet. UNHCR Netherlands lamented that the positive news for current asylum-seekers came at the expense of future refugees.

In this way, the agreement, which Le Monde heralded as a victory, rings hollow. Given the publicity surrounding a few pending deportation cases, the Dutch government may have felt the pressure to make a sweeping gesture and revisit some asylum rulings. But the children’s pardon legislation was never intended to make immigration easy. In fact, as recently as September 2018, Harbers acknowledged that the law was intentionally designed to bar the majority of asylum seekers from qualifying. This rhetoric echoes Trump’s new migrant protection protocols, which similarly seeks to make it as difficult as possible for immigrants to seek asylum in the U.S.

With the children’s pardon eliminated, asylum seekers in the Netherlands will be at the mercy of the country’s immigration department. The agency’s inflated budget may cut down the wait times for pending cases, but a speedy rejection will not make deportation any more humane.