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Hong Kong denies protection to refugees who helped Snowden

Hong Kong authorities have refused protection claims made by the group of refugees who sheltered Edward Snowden while he was hiding in the Asian city. The four adults and three children might soon face deportation.

The refugees claim they have fled from torture and persecution in their home nations of Sri Lanka and the Philippines. However, Hong Kong deems those countries to be safe, the groups' lawyer Robert Tibbo said on Monday.

"The decisions are completely unreasonable," Tibbo added, describing the refusal to grant protection as "manifestly unfair."

His clients now face deportation, as well as the risk they would be "detained and their children placed in government custody."

Hiding in refugees' homes

The case grabbed international attention for its ties with the whistleblower Edward Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong after exposing the NSA's spying practices in 2013. Snowden initially rented a hotel room in the city, where he met carefully selected journalists to disclose his information. He soon left for fear of being discovered and went into hiding for two weeks. Snowden then re-emerged and unsuccessfully sought asylum in South America, eventually ending up in Russia.

His whereabouts during the two weeks in Hong Kong remained unknown until fairly recently. However, last year the media discovered Snowden was aided by the impoverished group of refugees and advised by their current legal councilor, Robert Tibbo. A Sri Lankan couple with two children, a former Sri Lankan soldier, and a mother from the Philippines allowed Snowden to hide in their cramped apartments for several days.

Refugees to appeal

Canadian barrister Tibbo said that the Hong Kong authorities were not complying with their international obligations. The Hong Kong government "has repeatedly tried to question the four adults about their involvement with Mr. Snowden. For example, about how long had Mr. Snowden been staying with them, what was Mr. Snowden's movement in the territory, which is irrelevant to the (asylum) claims," the lawyer said.

"We now have less than two weeks to submit appeals before the families are deported."

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Hong Kong is not a signatory of the UN convention on refugees and its asylum procedures differ from those in the West. Authorities can still grant protection to people who experienced torture and persecution. Refugees are screened and then referred to the UN, that can then resettle them in a safe third country. Less than one percent of refugees succeed in their efforts, leaving around 11,000 currently in limbo and constant fear of deportation.

Asking for asylum in Canada

According to Tibbo and some Hong Kong officials, the Sri Lankan couple was targeted by agents from their home countries who traveled to the Chinese city. Also, all of the refugees' children were born in Hong Kong and are currently stateless.

The refugees also applied for asylum in Canada. On Monday, the international watchdog Human Rights Watch urged Ottawa to "intervene swiftly and protect them."

The migrants "now find themselves at dire risk if sent back to their countries,” said Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at Human Rights Watch. "Canada has the opportunity to a prevent a terrible outcome and should act immediately.”

dj/rt (AFP, AP)

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