TORONTO — The first of the “Snowden refugees” to find safe haven has an ask for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Help the others.
Rodel said the five other Snowden-linked refugees in Hong Kong — three adults and two children — were in immediate danger of deportation and urged Canadian authorities to speed up their cases. She also revealed that one of them, a Sri Lankan man named Supun Thilina Kellapatha, is her daughter’s father.
“I don’t want them to be left behind,” she said.
Rodel’s arrival will renew questions about who is admitted to Canada and how quickly.
At a time when other countries have closed their doors to refugees, Trudeau’s government has made welcoming newcomers a priority.
Both Trudeau and his foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, have personally greeted new arrivals. In a recent case, Freeland went to the airport to meet a young woman who fled from Saudi Arabia to Thailand, posting urgent messages from her Bangkok hotel room until authorities intervened to get her to Canada quickly.
Now the question of speed is at the heart of Rodel’s plea. She and the team of lawyers and activists who sponsored her to come to Canada are pressing Canadian officials to process the rest of the cases more quickly.
Asked about the cases Monday, Freeland stressed that decisions about the private sponsorship of refugees are not political.
“For the private refugees, it’s a quasi-judicial process — it’s not a political process,” she said.
On Tuesday, one of the Montreal-based lawyers working on the Hong Kong cases, Marc-André Séguin, countered that intervention from Canadian authorities was possible and necessary. “The reality is that there’s room for discretion,” he said.
Séguin stressed that Rodel did not expect her life to intersect with Snowden’s and that she should be treated as a Good Samaritan in need of protection, not a political activist — and the same for the others.
A survivor of kidnapping and trafficking, Rodel fled the Philippines in 2002 and moved to Hong Kong, where she first sought asylum.
In 2013, she was living in the city’s crowded tenements, awaiting her case, when her lawyer, Robert Tibbo, asked her whether she would be willing to shelter an American in distress. It turned out to be Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor-turned-leaker.
When Snowden traveled to Hong Kong in 2013, he first set up shop at a luxury hotel. After outing himself as the man behind one of the biggest leaks in U.S. history, he went underground, reappearing two weeks later on a flight to Moscow.
In 2016, ahead of the release of an Oliver Stone film about the Snowden story, it emerged that he spent that time living among his lawyer’s other clients, a small group of people scraping by in a city that does little to support asylum seekers in need.
When Tibbo asked her to help Snowden, Rodel said, she had no idea who he was. The next day, she saw a newspaper and realized that her houseguest was the most-wanted man in the world.
He later stayed with others, including the father of Rodel’s daughter and his family and another Sri Lankan man.
Snowden, who faces U.S. charges that could land him in prison for decades, was granted asylum in Russia. Years later, five of those who helped him remain stuck in Hong Kong.
Rodel said she is worried about their well-being and wants the group, which has been through a lot, to stay together. She also wants her daughter, now 7, to grow up in the same country as her dad.
“We are like a family,” she said.