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Marathon church service ends as Netherlands lets Armenian family stay

Supporters used a law that bars police from entering a place of worship while a service is in progress to stop them from being deported.
Image: Hayarpi Tamrazyan, right, from Armenia attends a service in the Bethel Church in The Hague, eastern Netherlands
Hayarpi Tamrazyan during the round-the-clock church service in a photo taken on Dec. 6, 2018.oen van Weel / AFP - Getty Images file

AMSTERDAM — A church ended a 96-day-long prayer service to stop an Armenian family being deported from the Netherlands on Wednesday, after the government agreed to make an exception to immigration rules.

Using a law that bars police from entering a place of worship while a service is in progress, hundreds of supporters of the Tamrazyan family have held rites round-the-clock at the Bethel Church in The Hague since Oct. 26.

But the country's Cabinet late Tuesday decided to allow the Tamrazyans and other families rejected for permanent residence to stay in the country after all.

The families together have around 700 children.

The Tamrazyan parents, along with their two daughters and a son, have lived in the Netherlands for nearly nine years, as their asylum application and various appeals proceeded through the country's legal system.

Last year, the country's highest administrative court ruled they must return to their home country, which is considered safe by the Dutch government.

Image: Hayarpi Tamrazyan
Hayarpi Tamrazyan speaks during a press conference on Wednesday. Her family had been sheltering at the Bethel Church in The Hague since October.Robin van Lonkhuijsen / AFP - Getty Images

The fight over the "children's pardon" put pressure on Prime Minister Mark Rutte's center-right government, which has only a one-seat majority in parliament's Lower House, and looks set to lose its Senate majority in a March 20 election.

Rutte's Liberal party is trying to present a tough stance on immigration, to avoid losing ground to rivals including the anti-Islam party of Geert Wilders.

Although Tuesday's decision was good news for the Tamrazyans, it came days too late for another family, the Grigoryans.

That family of five, with children aged three to eight, was deported to Armenia early last week, just as the Cabinet began deliberating on the issue.

"This is unfair and very painful," their lawyer told Dutch news agency ANP on Wednesday. "If their deportation had been postponed a few days, the family would have been allowed to stay."