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Pinay, 6 others face ejection as HK denies asylum claims

02 June 2017

The lone Filipina in a group of asylum seekers who hid American whistle-blower Edward Snowden when he was on the run in Hong Kong in 2013, fears being deported after the Immigration Department threw out their cases on May 15.

“I am really shocked and I feel so sad ... I know that they might detain me. I am very worried,” Vanessa Mae Rodel was quoted by the South China Morning Post as saying  after the Torture Claims Board’s decision. She said she didn’t want to be separated from her 4-year-old Hong Kong-born daughter.

Rodel, three Sri Lankan adults and three children are now filing an appeal to head off possible deportation, said Robert Tibbo, their Canadian lawyer in Hong Kong. Applications for their refugee status have also been filed with the Canadian government.

Snowden, now in asylum in Russia, called the board’s action a “transparent injustice”. In a 3-minute video posted online on May 16 by For the Refugees, a Canadian group that aims to raise  CA$15,000 for the seven asylum seekers, he accused authorities in Hong Kong of ignoring the peril of the refugees if they were deported to their home countries.

“These are good people who were driven from their homes by torture, rape, abuse, blackmail and war. Circumstances that are really difficult for us to imagine – these are documented, these aren’t allegations. These are facts,” he said.

The former US National Security Agency contractor was hidden by Rodel and the other refugees in their tiny homes while he was being hunted for leaking a trove of classified documents showing the extent of electronic spying by the US and other governments.

Sri Lankans Ajith Pushpakumara, couple Supun Thilina Kellapatha and Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis, and their two children made up the rest of the group.

Tibbo, the refugees’ lawyer, said they had 14 days to appeal and head off an imminent risk of
detention and deportation. The Canadian barrister, who also provided legal advice to Snowden while he was in the city, complained of “factual errors” in the decision, and it “failed to take material evidence into account”.

Tibbo said his clients had been singled out because of their involvement with Snowden. “I felt they already had the decision to reject the clients written up a long time ago... Their screening was expedited not to protect them, but to dispense their cases,” he said.

The refugees said they had faced questions about their links to Snowden by a social service agency contracted by the government.

A spokesman for the Security Bureau denied the accusation the Immigration Department targets any particular claimants or categories of claimants. He said the department would continue expediting the screening to clear about 9,000 claims pending.

Montreal immigration lawyer Marc-André Séguin was quoted by the SCMP as saying he felt compelled over the past few weeks “to formally petition the Canadian government to take these clients as refugees”.

His fellow Canadian lawyer, Francis Tourigny, said the claimants’ plight was “a matter of life and death”.

Séguin said the Canadian immigration minister should use his discretionary power to speed up the processing of claims. “These are people who fled persecution…and who are being actively sought after by authorities from their home countries…It’s up to Canada now to do the right thing,” Séguin said.

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