Dutch church holds marathon service to protect immigrants, 2018-2019


According to a press release from Church Bethel, "for the secretary of state, Mr. Mark Harbers, to use his authority and stop the deportation of this family [the Tamrazyans] and of those in similar circumstances. We also plea to organize a clear procedure that does not damage people and especially children."

Time period

26 October, 2018 to 31 January, 2019



Location City/State/Province

The Hague

Location Description

Bethel Church
Jump to case narrative


Human Rights



Group characterization

asylum seekers

Groups in 1st Segment

Armenian asylum seekers

Groups in 6th Segment

Mark Habers

Segment Length

16 days

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

2 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

6 out of 10 points

Database Narrative

Sasun and Anousche Tamrazyan, a married couple, and their children Hayarpi, 21, Warduhi, 19, and Seyran, 15 were originally from Armenia, but they fled from political persecution to the Netherlands in 2010 due to Sasun’s political actions. Although they had been living in the Netherlands for nine years, there was a legal battle surrounding their ability to stay in the country. The Dutch government attempted to deport the family three times, but the courts twice overruled the attempts.

Dutch law allowed for immigrant families with children who have lived in the Netherlands for five years or more to apply for a kinderpardon or “children’s pardon.” The Dutch government rejected the Tamrazyan’s application for a kinderpardon. After the third attempt by government officials to deport the Tamrazyans, the family fled to a church in the Hague on 24 October 2018.

Due to a Dutch law prohibiting government officials from interfering with religious services, a friend of the Tamrazyan family had the idea of holding a nonstop service to protect them from deportation. On 26 October 2018, the family moved to Bethel Church in the Hague.

Derk Stegeman, a pastor at Bethel Church, described receiving a phone call asking if the family could gain asylum in the church. After discussing it with his colleagues, he realized “the story was a good one that symbolized their fate and that of the families of the 400 children or so who should be given amnesty.”

The goal of the service, according to a press release from Church Bethel, was “for the secretary of state, Mr. Mark Harbers, to use his authority and stop the deportation of this family and of those in similar circumstances. We also plea to organize a clear procedure [for refugees] that does not damage people and especially children.”

As Stegeman realized the matter would take more than a few days, he asked Church Bethel officials to reach out to clergy members across various denominations in the Netherlands and neighboring countries to seek volunteers. Ultimately, 650 clergy members and over 1,000 pastors joined the movement to protect the Tamrazyans.

Congregants also joined the movement, as Church Bethel attempted to have at least three congregants outside of the Tamrazyan family present during services at all times, “so they can justifiably describe their efforts as a religious service.” Sermons lasted anywhere from six to eight hours at a time. A handful of congregants gathered around a pastor during each sermon. Behind the pastor were images of Jesus and Mary, a thin white cross, and a large tiled yellow and grey wall. Hayarpi Tamrazyan said of the service, “we are surrounded by people who want to help us and that's just incredible, and it gives us strength to keep going.”

Some pastors described the purpose of the action as symbolic, extending beyond just saving the Tamrazyan family from deportation and representing the need for all children of asylum seekers who deserve safety and liberty. Ultimately, the government granted amnesty to the Tamrazyrans. The government, however, also decided to eliminate kinderpardons altogether and instead allow the head of Immigration and Naturalization Service to have the authority to issue similar pardons.

Finally, the government decided to reduce the overall number of refugees allowed to enter the country from United Nations (UN) refugee camps based in war zones from 750 to 500. Thus, the movement was a success for the specific case of the Tamrazyans but a failure for Dutch laws regarding immigrants and refugees.


Boffey, Daniel. 2018. “Sixty Day Church Service Keeps Hope Alive for Asylum Family at Christmas.” The Guardian, December 21. Retrieved March 24, 2019. (http://web.archive.org/web/20190201171558/https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/21/dutch-round-the-clock-church-service-keeps-hopes-alive-for-asylum-family).

Boffey, Daniel. 2019. “Church Service Stops after 96 Days as Asylum Family Pardoned.” The Guardian, January 31. Retrieved March 24, 2019. (http://web.archive.org/web/20190303224409/https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/31/church-service-stops-96-days-asylum-family-pardoned-netherlands-hague-church).

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Kingsley, Patrick. 2018. “To Protect Migrants From Police, a Dutch Church Service Never Ends.” The New York Times, December 10. Retrieved March 24, 2019. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190324003522/https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/10/world/europe/migrants-dutch-church-service.html).

Kingsley, Patrick. 2019. “96 Days Later, Nonstop Church Service to Protect Refugees Finally Ends.” The New York Times, January 30. Retrieved March 24, 2019. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190324003049/https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/30/world/europe/netherlands-church-vigil-refugees.html).

Pérez-Peña, Richard. 2018. “5 Weeks and Counting: Dutch Church Holds Worship Marathon to Protect Migrant Family.” The New York Times, November 29. Retrieved March 24, 2019. (http://web.archive.org/web/20190202185030/https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/29/world/europe/bethel-church-netherlands-deportation.html).

Shellnutt, Kate. 2018. “Dutch Asylum Service Nears 1,000 Hours, With Evangelicals' Support.” News & Reporting, December 5. Retrieved March 24, 2019. (https://web.archive.org/web/20181206180403/https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/december/dutch-asylum-worship-service-netherlands-kinderpardon-hague.html).

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Olivia Robbins 28/05/2019