TORONTO — A Sri Lankan couple who briefly sheltered ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden in Hong Kong eight years ago arrived with their two children Tuesday in Canada, where authorities granted them protection.
The couple took Snowden in at the behest of Canadian human rights lawyer, Robert Tibbo, soon after he leaked documents detailing top-secret U.S. surveillance programs. Local media later identified Kellapatha, Nonis and several others, putting their lives at risk, advocates said.
But on Tuesday, the two refugees and their children — Sethumdi, 9, and Dinath, 5 — landed in Toronto, according to For the Refugees, a nonprofit group that privately sponsored their application for refugee status.
The family will travel to Montreal, where the group has arranged housing. There, they will be reunited with Vanessa Rodel, another “Snowden refugee,” and her daughter, Keana. The two arrived in Canada as refugees in 2019. Kellapatha is Keana’s father.
“After over a decade in limbo, they can now begin to build new lives in Canada, reunited with the rest of their family and free of the constant fear and worry that marked their existence as high-profile asylum seekers in Hong Kong,” For the Refugees president, Marc-André Séguin, said in a statement.
Ethan Cox, a spokesman for the organization, said that the separation of the two families has been a “great strain.”
Now, “they’re really thrilled to be able to say goodbye to Hong Kong,” Cox said. He added: “The situation in Hong Kong is not good … it’s a very, very unsafe place, especially for high-profile asylum seekers.”
When Snowden first arrived in Hong Kong, he stayed at a ritzy hotel — but soon went underground after outing himself as the whistleblower who leaked details about the National Security Agency’s Prism surveillance program.
Tibbo, who was helping Snowden, asked a group of asylum-seeker clients who fled their home countries and were living in Hong Kong’s cramped tenements if they would shelter an American contractor. The group, which included Kellapatha, Nonis and Rodel, agreed.
Snowden, who now faces multiple criminal charges in the United States, stayed with them for two weeks before fleeing to Russia, where he was granted asylum.
“This is the best news I’ve heard in a long, long time,” he tweeted.
It wasn’t until 2016, when the Oliver Stone film “Snowden” was released, that the role of the asylum seekers was revealed.
Another “Snowden refugee” from Sri Lanka, Ajith Pushpakumara, remains in Hong Kong, Cox said, and For the Refugees is urging the Canadian government to expedite his application.
“We hope that the Canadian government will expedite the processing of his application and then allow him to join the others in Canada without delay,” he said.