Canada has finally agreed to grant residency to a Sri Lankan family that was among the refugees who offered hospitality to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden when he went to Hong Kong to share classified materials with journalists.
Snowden spent two weeks hiding from possible pursuers at various locations in a poor area of Kowloon Walled City in the semi-autonomous Chinese city in 2013. The homes of asylum seekers mostly overlooked by Hong Kong authorities were great spots to lay low. But the lives of his generous hosts were turned upside down after their Western guest became a world-famous fugitive from the US government.
This week, four of the seven so-called ‘Snowden refugees’ saw a major positive development in their lives after Canada finally accepted their bids for permanent residency. Supun Thilina Kellapatha, his wife Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis and their two children were allowed to fly to Toronto on Tuesday and are expected to settle in Montreal, according to a campaign advocating on their behalf. The couple are Sri Lankan nationals while their children are stateless.
“We are thrilled beyond measure to see this long ordeal finally come to an end for Supun, Nadeeka and their children,” said immigration lawyer Marc-Andre Seguin. He heads the For the Refugees non-profit organization, which offered to be a private refugee sponsor for all seven people.
After over a decade in limbo they can now begin to build new lives in Canada, reunited with the rest of their family and free of the constant fear and worry that marked their existence as high-profile asylum seekers in Hong Kong.
Snowden, who for a long time has been a vocal supporter of his ‘guardian angels’, said it was “the best news I’ve heard in a long, long time.”
This is the best news I’ve heard in a long, long time. It would not have possible without the generosity of so many of you who made this happen.We need to bring one more home before we can say we’re done, but I cannot thank you enough for bringing us this far. Together, we win! https://t.co/vo3qlDmfj3
The four will be reunited with Filipina Vanessa Mae Rodel and her daughter, who was born in Hong Kong. They were granted permanent residency in Canada in March 2019, but their relocation was bittersweet. Vanessa and Supun were in a relationship and he is the father of her daughter, who got separated from her dad and two step-siblings when she moved to Canada.
The seventh person in the group is former Sri Lankan soldier Ajith Pushpakumara. He remains in Hong Kong, as his application for Canadian residency makes its way through red tape.
“I just hope that Canada will do the right thing and let him in,” Seguin told Canadian media. “They’ve been through so much together… There is that sense of belonging in the group.”
The campaign and Snowden called on Ottawa to expedite processing the immigration paperwork required for Ajith’s relocation. Applications on behalf of all seven refugees were filed in January 2017.
The four adults all fled persecution in their home countries. They sought asylum in Hong Kong, but their bids were all rejected several months after they applied for Canadian residencies. Their advocates believe city authorities took that decision in retaliation for the help they offered Snowden.
Snowden himself enjoys political asylum in Russia, where he got stranded after the US revoked his passport as he was flying from Hong Kong to Latin America through Moscow. He picked Hong Kong as the location to share materials exposing US illegal mass surveillance programs because the city for him was a “symbol of democratic resistance” to Beijing’s autocracy, according to Glenn Greenwald, one of the reporters he met with there.
Snowden went into hiding with the asylum seekers after his work with the journalists at the Mira hotel was complete. His hosts said they perceived the American as a fellow refugee seeking safety. The identities and roles that they played in Snowden’s life were first made public in 2016.
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