Posted on February 4, 2019

96 Days Later, Nonstop Church Service to Protect Refugees Finally Ends

Patrick Kingsley, New York Times, January 30, 2019

It was one of the longest religious ceremonies ever recorded, lasting for more than three months and involving nearly 1,000 pastors and priests.

But on Wednesday afternoon, a Dutch church’s nonstop 96-day vigil finally came to an end after its organizers received confirmation that a family of refugees sheltering inside the church would no longer face immediate deportation from the Netherlands.

Taking advantage of an obscure Dutch law that forbids the police to interrupt church services, ministers at Bethel Church in The Hague had been running a round-the-clock liturgy since Oct. 26 in order to prevent the five members of the Tamrazyan family from being arrested and sent back to Armenia.


Pastors from across Europe visited Bethel to participate in the service, many with several members of their congregations in tow, while more than 250,000 people signed a petition calling for a change to the law under which hundreds of families like the Tamrazyans could have been deported.


The church decided that the service could be safely ended after a grand compromise between the four parties of the Netherlands’ governing coalition. The parties provisionally agreed on Tuesday that up to 700 families who had been previously listed for deportation, despite having lived in the Netherlands for more than a decade in some cases, could have their cases reassessed.

The announcement constituted a radical policy reversal for some of the parties. One government minister had previously described the Tamrazyan family’s fate as “hopeless.”


Though no instructions have yet been issued to the Dutch Civil Service, and no family’s fate has been confirmed, Mr. Stegeman said he had been assured by several political leaders on Tuesday night that the status of the Tamrazyan family would be among those reassessed.

That encouraged Mr. Stegeman and his colleagues to halt the service, which began last fall in secret and with few congregants present but ended on Wednesday afternoon with an emotional final communion in front of a packed chapel.