Sri Lankan refugee Supun Thilina Kellapatha (third from left), his partner Nadeeka (left), with their baby boy Dinath, daughter Sethumdi, Sri Lankan refugee Ajith Puspa (third from right),and Filipino refugee Vanessa Rodel (right) with her daughter Keana

Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images via CNN

Woman who housed Snowden in Hong Kong granted refugee status in Canada

March 25, 2019 - 9:31 pm
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By Joshua Berlinger, CNN

(CNN) -- Canadian authorities have granted asylum to a woman and her daughter who housed Edward Snowden in Hong Kong after the former NSA contractor leaked classified documents on US surveillance programs around the world in 2013.

The decision allows Philippines national Vanessa Rodel and her 7-year-old daughter Keana to leave Hong Kong after living in the city without proper legal status for years.

"I'm truly happy," Rodel said. "I'm so excited. I can't sleep."

Rodel and two Sri Lankan families put up Snowden shortly after he went public in 2013.

At the time, Snowden's lawyer Robert Tibbo worried that his client could face possible rendition back to the US, where he was branded a traitor.

So Tibbo advised Snowden to hide with Hong Kong refugees because he thought it would be the last place anyone would look.

Related: US expects fallout from Snowden leaks for years to come

"This has been a seven year battle," said Tibbo, who also represents the refugees who hid Snowden.

After Snowden left the city and was granted asylum in Russia, Rodel and the other refugees who hid him moved forward with their Hong Kong refugee status applications. Their cases were rejected in 2017.

As of now, only Rodel and her daughter Keana have been granted asylum in Canada. Lawyers working on behalf of the other refugees who hid Snowden said the Canadian government is still considering their cases.

Rodel told CNN the process has been long, arduous and depressing. She said she came to Hong Kong because she was a victim of human trafficking in her home country of the Philippines, and is too afraid to go home. However, as a refugee without legal status, she also does not feel safe in Hong Kong.

"There's nothing here," Rodel said. "It's a living hell in Hong Kong. We've had a miserable life in Hong Kong."

Rodel said in Canada, she hopes she and her daughter can learn French, buy a home and perhaps even enroll in university.

Keana doesn't remember much of Snowden, except that he has short hair. She said she's excited for her new life in Canada, and is looking forward to seeing snow for the first time and Siberian huskies.

Rodel and two Sri Lankan families who hid Snowden came forward in 2016, around the time Oliver Stone's film "Snowden" was released.

The three families they always faced long odds on being granted legal status in Hong Kong.

The city is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugees Convention, and historically has only allowed a very small number of refugees to settle in. There are about 10,000 people living in Hong Kong who are seeking refugee status, according to the NGO Justice Centre Hong Kong.

Those who are not recognized have trouble accessing basic services like healthcare or police protection. Children born here to refugees, like Rodel's daughter Keana, are effectively stateless. Keana does not have a passport.

The Hong Kong government said in a statement to CNN in 2017 that it rejected the three families' asylum claims because it believed there were no "substantial grounds for believing that the claimants, if returned to their country of origin, will be subject to real and substantial risk of danger."

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