China

Group who helped Edward Snowden denied Hong Kong asylum

From left to right: Sri Lankan refugees Ajith Puspa, 45, and Supun Thilina Kellapatha, 32, his partner Nadeeka, 32, and Filipino refugee Vanessa Rodel, 40, in Hong Kong, 23 February 2017 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Four adults (from left) Ajith, Supun, his partner Nadeeka and Filipino refugee Vanessa Rodel helped Edward Snowden

Hong Kong has rejected the asylum claims of a group who helped shelter US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The asylum-seekers, from Sri Lanka and the Philippines, housed Mr Snowden for two weeks when he fled the US after leaking thousands of files.

A government spokesman said that there were no substantial grounds for believing that the claimants would face danger in their home countries.

The group, who are also seeking asylum in Canada, have 14 days to appeal.

The asylum-seekers - a Sri Lankan couple with two children, a Sri Lankan man and a Filipino mother with a daughter - were introduced to Edward Snowden by their lawyer, Robert Tibbo.

He brought him to their homes in 2013 just after the former National Security Agency contractor revealed he had leaked classified information to the press revealing widespread US government surveillance.

The identity of the group, who sheltered him for about two weeks, only became public shortly before the release of an Oliver Stone film about the whistleblower.

"We now have less than two weeks to submit appeals before the families are deported," Mr Tibbo said, calling the decision "completely unreasonable".

'Targeting'

There are currently 8,956 asylum seekers in Hong Kong awaiting a decision on their case, according to the Immigration Department.

But the territory only recognised 72 people as refugees between 2009 and December 2016, the South China Morning Post reported in February.

Most spend years in limbo waiting for the government - which is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention, but considers claims for protection on the grounds that those sent home could be tortured - to process their case.


Singled out? By Juliana Liu, BBC News, Hong Kong

The lawyers for the asylum seekers believe they are being treated unfairly by the Hong Kong government.

The proof? They say the four adults all arrived in Hong Kong at different times, submitted their applications separately and made different claims. Their asylum cases had little in common.

Instead what unites them is that they all fed and sheltered Edward Snowden.

Their main lawyer, Robert Tibbo, told me the fact that all the cases were activated and decided at the same time suggested his clients were singled out because of their relationship with Mr Snowden.

Another one of their lawyers, Marc-Andre Sequin, said their cases had been expedited because their plight had drawn attention to the "embarrassing" way in which Hong Kong treated asylum seekers.

A spokesman for the Hong Kong government denied these accusations.


Marc-Andre Seguin, a Canadian lawyer representing the group in their Canadian application, told RTHK that "clearly there is targeting here and our clients have reason for concern".

Two of the Sri Lankan refugees say they are being illegally pursued by police from their own country who travelled to Hong Kong in late 2016. Sri Lankan police have denied the allegations.

In a statement, the government spokesman said claims the Immigration Department targeted "any particular claimants or categories of claimants is unfounded and not true".

"All claims are screened under the same procedures and requirements, and ImmD [the Immigration Department] has all along been handling each non-refoulement claim professionally in a fair, impartial and efficient manner."

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