Refugees Who Sheltered Edward Snowden Are Given Asylum in Canada

Vanessa Rodel, second from left, with her daughter, Keana Nihinsa, and their lawyer, Robert Tibbo, third from left, at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Monday.CreditCreditCole Burston/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

HONG KONG — A Filipino woman who sheltered Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, when he fled to Hong Kong has been granted asylum in Canada, where she arrived on Monday with her daughter.

The woman, Vanessa Mae Bondalian Rodel, was part of a group of asylum seekers in Hong Kong who briefly allowed Mr. Snowden to stay in their homes in 2013.

“This is a really great day,” said her lawyer, Robert Tibbo. “She’s departed Hong Kong. She’s left behind all the distress, hopelessness and uncertainty in life, the discrimination and marginalization she has suffered.”

The Hong Kong government in 2017 rejected the asylum claims of all seven migrants connected with Mr. Snowden. Since then they have been living in limbo, fearing deportation while awaiting decisions on asylum applications to Canada.

Ms. Rodel did not know who Mr. Snowden was when she took him in to her tiny apartment. She brought him an Egg McMuffin and ice tea from McDonald’s. And on his second day there, she bought him a copy of The South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper, and saw his image splashed on the front page.

“Oh my God, unbelievable,” she recalled herself saying. “The most wanted man in the world is in my house.”

At that time, Mr. Snowden was the focus of international scrutiny as government officials and news media outlets rushed to find the source of leaks about some of the United States’ most closely guarded surveillance programs.

Like Ms. Rodel, Mr. Snowden was represented by Mr. Tibbo, who figured that the tiny apartments of his asylum-seeker clients in some of Hong Kong’s poorest neighborhoods would be the last place anyone would look for the contractor.

Mr. Snowden, who initially stayed in the five-star Mira Hotel when he arrived in Hong Kong, disappeared from public view for about two weeks before leaving for Moscow, where he lives in exile to this day.

He faces charges in the United States, including two counts under the Espionage Act, after he revealed details of secret surveillance programs that collected communications of hundreds of millions of people.

His location during most of his time in Hong Kong was secret until 2016. The revelation that he had stayed with asylum seekers focused attention on their difficult circumstances in the territory. They cannot work in Hong Kong and live on small government stipends while they await decisions on their applications, which are usually rejected.

Mr. Tibbo was criticized by some other lawyers in Hong Kong, who said he had put the asylum seekers at risk and undermined their cases by helping news organizations cover their plight. But clients including Ms. Rodel said that he was a tireless advocate and that they felt reassured when he took on their cases.

Ms. Rodel, 42, and her 7-year-old daughter, Keana Nihinsa, are now set to live in Montreal. Their expenses for their first year will be provided by For the Refugees, an organization that was set up to handle the group’s asylum claims.

The group will also provide her with professional and educational counselors to help her figure out how to proceed now that she will be allowed to work again, said Marc-André Séguin, the president of For the Refugees.

“This is a huge victory for Vanessa and her daughter,” Mr. Séguin said. “Both left Hong Kong earlier today as refugee claimants and landed in Toronto as Canadian permanent residents.”

Five other asylum seekers who sheltered Mr. Snowden are awaiting decisions on their applications in Canada. Among them is Ajith Pushpakumara, from Sri Lanka, who said he had fled to Hong Kong after being tortured for deserting the military and faces the possibility of execution if he returns to his native country.

Mr. Snowden tweeted a message of thanks on Monday. “After so many years, the first of the families that helped me is free and has a future,” he wrote. “But the work is not done. With solidarity and compassion, Canada can save them all.


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