Dutch prayer vigil family 'hopeful' of asylum

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An Armenian family saved from deportation by a Dutch church's round-the-clock religious services said Thursday it was "a difficult time", even if they remain hopeful.

The Tamrazyan family have been sheltering for nearly two months at the Bethel Protestant Church in The Hague, which has taken advantage of a loophole in Dutch law to keep police at bay.

Hayarpi Tamrazyan, her 19-year-old sister, 14-year-old brother, mother and father took refuge in the church on October 25 after Dutch authorities turned down their request for asylum.

Legally Dutch authorities are not allowed to enter the premises while a religious service is underway -- so nearly 650 pastors from the Netherlands and other countries have been praying 24/7.

"I really don't know what the outcome will be but we hope we can stay here because this is our home, this is where we belong," Hayarpi Tamrazyan, 21, the oldest daughter of the family, told a group of foreign media at the church.

"My brother, my sister and I grew up in the Netherlands and we have been living here for almost nine years.

"My brother, he plays football here and all our friends are here and my sister and I are studying here, this is just where we belong."

The family fled Armenia after the father received death threats for his political activities.

- 'Gives us strength' -

Since then they have been living on the church premises, while Dutch people and volunteers from Belgium, France and Germany have been helping out with the round-the-clock services.

"It's a difficult time for us but we get so much support from all over the country and also from all over the world," Hayarpi said. "That gives us strength to keep going."

The church has helped the family deal with a tide of media interest, as well as balancing the sudden spotlight with the spiritual needs of parishioners.

Derk Stegeman, spokesman of the Bethel church and a pastor, urged the Dutch government to give the family asylum.

"This family is in need of help. This family is not safe in Armenia and the children who have grown up here are at risk," he said.

The Dutch immigration service has declined to comment on the case, but the country's justice ministry has the power to exceptionally grant asylum to minors who are subject to expulsion orders.

The church saga echoes the case which gripped the Netherlands in September in which two Armenian children disappeared to avoid deportation.

© 2018 AFP

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