US intelligence whistle-blower Edward Snowden sought shelter among Hong Kong refugees in Sham Shui Po after he leaked a huge trove of secret documents, reports said.
The former intelligence contractor had quit his job with the National Security Agency and traveled to Hong Kong on May 20, 2013 where he initiated one of the largest data leaks in US history, fueling a firestorm over the issue of mass surveillance.
Although Snowden stayed in an upscale hotel before the leak, little was known of his situation afterward. But reports yesterday revealed he had been given shelter by some of the city's 11,000 asylum seekers.
Many of the refugees are forced to live in slum-like conditions, the last place anyone would look for the high- profile fugitive.
The 33-year-old stayed with at least four refugees, according to a New York Times report. It added they were all clients of lawyer Robert Tibbo, who helped hide Snowden.
"It was clear that if Mr Snowden was placed with a refugee family, this was the last place the government would expect him to be," Tibbo told the report.
One Filipino woman with whom he stayed, Vanessa Mae Bondalian Rodel, described him as "scared and very worried."
After she saw his story in media, she described her shock. "Oh my God, the most wanted man in the world is in my house."
Other refugees from Sri Lanka said they were not worried about hosting Snowden, and felt he was taking a greater risk than they were. One family told how he left money for them under a pillow before he left.
Snowden stayed in Tai Kok Tsui, Sham Shui Po and Kennedy Town and "was offered support, assistance and protection" between June 10 to June 23, according to Canada's National Post.
After leaking NSA details to journalists at Mira Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, Snowden was transported to Lai Chi Kok. After a week, he was moved to Sham Shui Po.
Snowden mainly stayed indoors and worked on his computer. The National Post said he ate McDonald's food, spaghetti and burgers and would occasionally venture outdoors during the night. He used throwaway phones and encryption software to communicate when person-to-person meetings were not possible.
"[The asylum seekers] had a hundred chances to betray me while I was among them, and no one could have blamed them, given their precarious situations. But they never did," Snowden told the National Post.
The report said a dozen plane tickets out of Hong Kong were bought in order to confuse any local or foreign officials monitoring the airport. Snowden left after a "neutral to a green-light" was received from the government for him to depart, it added.
Snowden's leaks about eavesdropping of phones and computer systems triggered concern from governments worldwide.