Three families who sheltered American whistle-blower Edward Snowden in Hong Kong are formally requesting refuge in Canada, it was announced on Thursday.
Snowden, a former U.S. government worker who leaked classified files, stayed with the families in 2013 while on the run from authorities. He is now living in exile in Moscow to avoid charges in the U.S. that could land him in prison for up to 30 years.
According to a group of three Canadian lawyers representing the families, they are increasingly at risk in Hong Kong. They face persecution there, according to the legal team, and “more than ever, relocating our clients to Canada is a question of life and death,” according to a release issued Thursday morning.
Canadian Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, who once came to Canada as a refugee from Somalia, is being asked to use his discretionary powers as minister to expedite the applications.
A spokesperson for the minister’s office said Thursday that “in order to protect privacy, it is the standard practice that the minister’s office never confirms or denies whether IRCC has received applications for immigration or visits to Canada.”
The refugee families include:
- A mother, Vanessa Mae Rodel of the Philippines, and her four-year-old daughter.
- Ajith Pushpakumara, a former soldier from Sri Lanka.
- A family of four from Sri Lanka, identified as Supun Thilina Kellapatha, his wife Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis and their children.
The children are currently stateless, according to their lawyers. Snowden himself tweeted his support for the families on Thursday.
The three lawyers — Marc-André Séguin, Francis Tourigny and Michael Simkin — have set up a not-for-profit organization called For the Refugees dedicated to helping the families. They will continue to represent the three families in their Canadian immigration proceedings.
“We are encouraged by Prime Minister Trudeau’s commitment in taking a clear lead internationally in welcoming refugees,” said Séguin in the release.
“The Canadian government must take notice that these families, who have expressed their desire to safely relocate to Canada on multiple occasions, are increasingly at risk in Hong Kong.”