Refugee claims have been filed in Canada on behalf of the asylum seekers who sheltered former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden in Hong Kong in 2013, lawyers involved in the matter revealed yesterday.
The group of three lawyers who filed the claims on January 26, and have worked with Hong Kong-based Canadian barrister Robert Tibbo on the case, are now calling on Canadian immigration minister Ahmed Hussen to use his discretionary powers to expedite the applications.
“Over the course of the past few weeks, we felt compelled to take an additional step forward, so we formally petitioned the Canadian government to take these clients as refugees,” Montreal-based immigration lawyer Marc-André Séguin said.
Fellow Canadian lawyer Francis Tourigny, who lived in Hong Kong from 2009 to 2013, noted the claimants’ poor living conditions in the city and a heightened security threat since their assistance to Snowden was revealed. He said their plight was “a matter of life and death”.
Claims emerged recently that Sri Lankan police had been in the Hong Kong looking for some of the refugees however, the authority denied doing so.
“It’s very clear that discretionary power should be applied,” Séguin said, referring to the Canadian immigration minister’s authority to speed up the processing of claims.
“These are people who fled persecution, who today in Hong Kong have no future as a result of the very nature of the system applicable to asylum seekers, and who are being actively sought after by authorities from their home countries,” he added.
Hong Kong’s asylum seeker acceptance rate stands at 0.6 per cent. In the few cases that have been substantiated, applicants were referred to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for resettlement in a third country.
“It’s up to Canada now to do the right thing,” Séguin said.
The lawyer said they were confident that they had “very strong cases” as they met every criteria to be accepted as refugees into Canada. Unlike many other nations, Canada has taken a leading role in accepting and welcoming refugees.
The asylum seekers who housed Snowden include Vanessa Mae Rodel from the Philippines, who has a daughter aged 4, Ajith Pushpakumara, a former soldier from Sri Lanka, and a family of four from the same country – Supun Thilina Kellapatha, his wife Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis and their two children. All three children are stateless.
They have waited a number of years to have their protection claims screened by the Hong Kong government and said previously that they want to leave the city, naming Canada as their preferred destination.
Pushpakumara, 44, who arrived in Hong Kong in 2006, earlier said: “I would choose Canada … I heard I could have good protection [there] and hopefully I could work.”
The group of three Canadian lawyers – Séguin, Tourigny and Michael Simkin – travelled to Hong Kong and met the refugees in person for the first time on Wednesday after previously communicating through video calls.
In November, the three set up an NGO in Quebec named For the Refugees. The organisation has so far collected CAD$100,000 (HK$577,916) in donations and has held events raising awareness for the asylum seekers.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Fate of asylum seekers ‘now ‘up to Canada’, lawyers say