A group of refugees who sheltered fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden in Hong Kong are facing deportation after the city’s authorities rejected their bid for protection, their lawyer said on Monday.
The impoverished Philippine and Sri Lankan refugees helped the former National Security Agency contractor evade authorities in 2013 by hiding him in their cramped homes after he initiated one of the largest data leaks in US history.
They have spent years hoping the government would recognise their cases and save them from being sent back to their home countries, where they say they were persecuted. However, immigration authorities rejected their protection claims on Monday. Tibbo said their cases had been rejected because their home countries were deemed safe.
The refugees have said previously they were specifically asked about their links to Snowden by Hong Kong authorities.
“We now have less than two weeks to submit appeals before the families are deported,” said Tibbo alongside the refugees, who were visibly distressed. He said there was a risk his clients could be detained and their children placed in government custody.
After leaving his initial Hong Kong hotel bolthole for fear of being discovered, Snowden went underground, fed and looked after by the refugees for around two weeks. Their stories only emerged late last year. Hong Kong is not a signatory to the UN’s refugee convention and does not grant asylum.
However, it is bound by the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and considers claims for protection based on those grounds.
After government screening, claimants found to be at risk of persecution are referred to the UN’s refugee agency, which can try to resettle them to a safe third country.