Refugees who sheltered fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden in Hong Kong are formally seeking asylum from the Canadian government as their lawyers said yesterday their lives are in danger.
The impoverished refugees took in the former National Security Agency contractor in 2013, helping him to evade authorities by hiding him in their cramped homes after he initiated one of the largest data leaks in US history.
The refugees say they have been specifically asked about their links to Snowden by Hong Kong authorities.
Their lawyers and some city legislators say two Snowden hosts from Sri Lanka have been targeted by agents from their own country who have traveled to Hong Kong.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Canadian lawyer Marc-Andre Seguin said: "It is a matter of life and death."
Seguin is one of a legal team for the refugees trying to raise awareness of their situation.
The lawyers say they want Canada to consider taking them in because of their "exceptional circumstances," rather than trying to set any kind of precedent.
The asylum petition has been lodged with the Canadian government.
"What adds to the exceptional nature of the case is that there are three stateless children who are involved here and affected by that," said Seguin.
After leaving his initial Hong Kong hotel bolthole for fear of being discovered, Snowden went underground, fed and looked after by refugees for around two weeks.
Hong Kong is not a signatory to the UN's refugee convention and does not grant asylum.
However, it is bound by the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) and considers claims for protection based on those grounds.
Vanessa Rodel from the Philippines, who has a five-year-old daughter and is one of those seeking asylum in Canada, has said she has no regrets about taking Snowden in.