Round-the-clock ser­vices pro­tect asy­lum seek­ers

San Francisco Chronicle - Late Edition (Sunday) - - WORLD - By Mike Corder

THE HAGUE, Nether­lands — For more than a month, a ro­tat­ing ros­ter of preach­ers has been lead­ing a non-stop, round-the-clock ser­vice at a small Protes­tant chapel in The Hague in an at­tempt to shield a fam­ily of Ar­me­nian asy­lum seek­ers from de­por­ta­tion.

Un­der a cen­turies-old tra­di­tion, au­thor­i­ties in the Nether­lands don’t en­ter a church while a ser­vice is un­der way. That means that for now the Tam­razyan fam­ily — par­ents, their two daugh­ters and son — are safe from Dutch im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties who want to send them back to Ar­me­nia.

“There was only one thing you could do and that was start­ing a church ser­vice to save the life of this fam­ily, but also call at­ten­tion for the fate of so many chil­dren in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances,” said Theo Het­tema, chair of the Gen­eral Coun­cil of the Protes­tant Church of The Hague. “It’s heart­break­ing. We had com­pas­sion and we had good rea­sons and we thought it was the mis­sion of our church to act like this.”

The church ser­vice shines a light on a prob­lem fac­ing au­thor­i­ties in the Nether­lands and else­where in Eu­rope: what to do with fam­i­lies who have been fight­ing le­gal bat­tles for asy­lum for so long that their chil­dren have be­come deeply in­te­grated into so­ci­ety, go­ing to school, learn­ing the lan­guage and mak­ing friends.

The Tam­razyan fam­ily has been liv­ing in the Nether­lands for nearly nine years, as their asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tion and var­i­ous ap­peals pro­ceeded slowly through the courts. Now the Coun­cil of State, the coun­try’s high­est ad­min­is­tra­tive court, has ruled they must re­turn to their home coun­try, which is con­sid­ered safe by the Dutch gov­ern­ment.

The As­so­ci­ated Press was not given ac­cess to the fam­ily. “The fa­ther was po­lit­i­cally ac­tive and fled to the Nether­lands be­cause of threats,” Het­tema said.

Over the years, sis­ters Ha­yarpi, 21, and War­duhi, 19, and their 15-year-old brother Seyran have laid down roots, at­tended school and made friends.

While the round-the-clock ser­vice con­tin­ues, the fam­ily some­times listens to the ser­mon, cooks or re­ceives vis­its from friends.

“It’s very stress­ful for them,” Het­tema said. “Some­times they are sad and ner­vous and some­times they are hope­ful and give us hope in re­turn.”

Het­tema said that af­ter ini­tially us­ing lo­cal preach­ers to de­liver the ser­vice, the church has now reached out to oth­ers and has re­ceived of­fers of help from some 500 peo­ple from dif­fer­ent churches as far away as Bel­gium.

Mike Corder is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

Niels Wen­st­edt / AFP / Getty Images

Seyran (right) and his sis­ter War­duhi were born in Ar­me­nia. The fam­ily has taken shel­ter in the Bethel church in The Hague, which is hold­ing non-stop ser­vices to pre­vent de­por­ta­tion.

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