By Stefan J. Bos
The church door was quickly opened and then closed by a pastoral worker. Inside, the congregation sang about a fire that never goes out. They’ve been singing and praying for an Armenian family since October 26th.
The Tamrazyan family — the parents and their three children — say they left Armenia nine years ago after receiving death threats because of the father’s political activism.
Since then, their bid for asylum in The Netherlands has dragged on. The Protestant Bethel Church in The Hague was trying to prevent the deportation of the Armenian family which continues church services. The last service dedicated to the family was held Wednesday after Dutch legislators told the Armenians that they can stay.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte ’s four-party ruling coalition agreed overnight to allow hundreds of young migrants to remain in the country.
The government almost collapsed amid a dispute over what to do with children who have been in the Netherlands for years during the asylum process. That conflict pitted Rutte’s liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) against three junior coalition partners who asked demanded more compassion.
At a news conference Migration Minister Mark Harbers said that under the compromise cases of many children whose applications were rejected will be reviewed again. "We expect that many will still receive a residence permit. But at the same time, we end this arrangement for future cases," he said.
Dutch media reported that about 700 children will be affected.
But speaking in Parliament, far-right politician Geert Wilders of the Party for Freedom (PVV) condemned the deal. "This government deal means a massive celebration for all illegal migrants who want to have a residence permit here, for all human smugglers, for all the lawyers of foreigners and the asylum industry," he explained.
"They have a great day as hundreds and possibly much more than 1,000 illegal migrants can stay here."
But nine-year-old Nemr from Iraq was celebrating. Nemr, who despite his young age became another voice for amnesty, posted a video on social network site Twitter. "The children pardon is back. I am thanking everybody, The Netherlands, the Dutch Parliament and everybody who supported me," he said.
"I didn't do this only for myself but for hundreds of other children in a similar situation. Horay it finally happened."
But he may be among the last group of asylum-seeking children to be able to stay.
The government says it will scrap the Dutch policy widely known as the “children’s pardon.”
That was introduced in 2013 to grant asylum to most children who have been in the country for more than five years while their asylum applications are processed.
And under the new measure, the migration minister will lose his discretionary power to grant residency permits in exceptional circumstances, and the Dutch government will cut the number of refugees it voluntarily houses under a U.N. program from 750 per year to 500.