Dutch church's 97-day marathon Mass wins refugee family a home

/ CBS News

Ongoing mass held for family denied asylum

A Dutch church's steadfast refusal to let a vulnerable immigrant family be deported has paid off. It took hundreds of volunteers to keep a marathon Mass going — 24 hours a day, for 97 days — but in the end the Tamrazyan family has been given permission to remain in the Netherlands.

Late on Tuesday, the government said authorities would review the cases of many kids whose applications for asylum were rejected. "The expectation is that a large number of the rejected children will be eligible" for a residency permit, government minister Mark Harbers said. He told Dutch lawmakers that authorities would not deport any of the families while the review is conducted.

"The purpose of the church shelter was to provide safety for the family who had exhausted all legal remedies and to come to a solution for families in similar situations. Now that more than 600 rooted children and their parents can stay in the Netherlands, the intended result has been achieved," the church said in a statement.

It noted, however, that given the uncertain final outcome, the church "will always continue to fight for a humane reception of refugees."

As CBS News' Charlie D'Agata reported in December, Hayarpi Tamrazyan has lived in the Netherlands for nine years, but her family was denied asylum.

They fled Armenia because her father's political activism put the family at risk, and they sought sanctuary at the Protestant Bethel Church in The Hague to escape the deportation order.

Under an old and obscure Dutch law, police aren't allowed to make an arrest in the middle of a church service — so the church kept the Mass going, for more than three months.

"We are surrounded by people who want to help us and that's just incredible, and it gives us strength to keep going," Tamrazyan, the family's eldest daughter, told CBS News in December.

Hayarpi Tamrazyan (R) from Armenia attends a service in the Bethel church in The Hague, eastern Netherlands. Getty

The pastor, Derk Stegeman, kept the Mass going — and police at bay — since the beginning. But reinforcements lined up, with at least 650 clergy members eventually volunteering to help.

"It's always getting bigger and bigger," he said. So big there was a two week waiting list for volunteers from 20 denominations across the Netherlands and neighboring countries.

"We hope that we can stay here, because, yeah, this is our home. This is where we belong," Tamrazyan said of the small European nation in December.

Her wish came true this week, with the church announcing in a press release that it was officially ending its "continuous church service" thanks to the government's agreement to offer the Armenian family "a safe future in the Netherlands."

First published on January 30, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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