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Refugees who sheltered Edward Snowden in Hong Kong are granted asylum in Canada

The Sri Lankan family is part of a group that let the former N.S.A. contractor stay with them as he fled U.S. espionage charges.
Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis holds the hand of her son Dinath as they arrive in Toronto, on Sept. 28, 2021.Cole Burston / AFP - Getty Images

HONG KONG — A Sri Lankan couple that sheltered former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden when he fled to Hong Kong in 2013 have been granted asylum in Canada along with their two children, a nonprofit group said.

Supun Thilina Kellapatha and Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis arrived in Toronto on Tuesday with their children, Sethumdi and Dinath, according to For the Refugees, the group that sponsored their asylum application. They will travel to Montreal and settle there as permanent residents, the group said.

The family had been in limbo for years after being denied asylum in Hong Kong in 2017. For the Refugees had long lobbied Canada to accept them, saying they faced persecution and deportation in Hong Kong, a Chinese territory with about 10,000 refugees from all over the world.

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“We are thrilled beyond measure to see this long ordeal finally come to an end for Supun, Nadeeka and their children,” Marc-André Séguin, president of For the Refugees, said in a statement.

“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,” he added.

Snowden arrived in Hong Kong in May 2013 after leaving his job at an N.S.A. facility in Hawaii with thousands of classified documents about vast U.S. surveillance programs. He initially stayed in a high-end hotel, where he gave an interview to journalists from The Guardian who also published some of the documents.

Canada granted asylum to four people who hid former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in their tiny Hong Kong apartment.Cole Burston / AFP - Getty Images

The bombshell revelations became the center of global attention, dominating headlines for weeks. Snowden soon decided to leave the hotel out of safety concerns, and one of his lawyers arranged for him to stay with some of his clients in Hong Kong’s community of refugees and asylum seekers, where he thought no one would look.

Facing U.S. espionage charges, Snowden fled about two weeks later to Russia, where he was granted permanent residency last year.

“This is the best news I’ve heard in a long, long time,” Snowden said on Twitter on Wednesday after the family’s arrival in Canada was announced.

A Filipino refugee who also helped Snowden, Vanessa Rodel, was granted asylum in Canada in 2019 along with her daughter, Keana Nihinsa, whose father is Kellapatha.

Another “Snowden refugee,” Ajith Pushpakumara of Sri Lanka, remains in Hong Kong. Mr. Séguin’s group called on Canadian authorities to expedite Pushpakumara’s asylum application.

Image: Edward Snowden speaks during an interview in Hong Kong
Edward Snowden speaks during an interview in Hong Kong on June 6, 2013.The Guardian via Getty Images file

The refugees’ role in the dramatic escape was revealed in the 2016 Oliver Stone film “Snowden.” Their cases have also highlighted the problems of refugees in Hong Kong, which is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention and almost never approves asylum applications.

Refugees and asylum seekers in Hong Kong, one of the world’s most expensive cities, live in cramped apartments, are legally barred from working and rely on government subsidies of HK$3,000 ($385) a month.

“We have no doubt that Ajith’s application will ultimately be accepted, as these others have been, but every day he remains in Hong Kong puts him at risk,” Séguin said. “It’s time for Canada to cut through the red tape, and finish processing his application.”