Crunch for Snowden's SAR helpers

Local | 16 May 2017

A group of asylum seekers who helped shelter American security agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden in Hong Kong in 2013 are facing deportation after the Immigration Department rejected their bid for protection.

The refugees now face detention and deportation, and their lawyers have 14 days to appeal and possibly extend their stay. "The decisions are completely unreasonable," their lawyer, Robert Tibbo, said yesterday. The procedures had been "manifestly unfair" toward his clients.

Tibbo said their cases had been rejected because their home countries were deemed safe. The refugees had said previously they were specifically asked by Hong Kong authorities about their links to Snowden, who fled from the United States and stayed in the SAR before being allowed into Russia.

"We now have less than two weeks to submit appeals before the families are deported," said Tibbo alongside the refugees, who were visibly distressed.

He said there is a risk his clients could be detained and their children placed in government custody.

The group includes a Sri Lankan couple with two young children, another man from Sri Lanka, and a woman from the Philippines and her five-year- old daughter. They were informed last week their asylum bids had failed.

The impoverished refugees helped the former National Security Agency contract worker evade authorities in 2013 by hiding him in their cramped homes after he initiated one of the largest data leaks in US history. They have spent years hoping government officials would recognize their cases and save them from being sent back to their home countries, where they say they were persecuted.

However, immigration authorities also rejected their protection claims yesterday.

Snowden, who went underground after leaving his initial hotel bolthole for fear of being discovered, was fed and looked after by the refugees for about two weeks. Their stories only came out late last year. The group claimed they experienced torture and persecution in their own countries and cannot safely return.

Their lawyers and several legislators have said two of the Sri Lankans have been targeted by agents from their home country who traveled to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is not a signatory to the Unitedf Nations' refugee convention and does not grant asylum. But it is bound by the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and will consider claims for protection on those grounds.

The refugees' lawyers separately lodged an asylum petition with the Canadian government in March and yesterday called for that process to be expedited.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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