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Canada Grants Asylum to Refugees Who Sheltered Snowden in Hong Kong – The New York Times

Asia Pacific|Canada Grants Asylum to Refugees Who Sheltered Snowden in Hong Kong

The move ends a long period of uncertainty for a Sri Lankan family that hosted the National Security Agency contractor in their tiny apartment in 2013.

Supun Thilina Kellapatha, right, and Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis, center, after they landed on Tuesday in Toronto.
Credit…Cole Burston/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Austin Ramzy

HONG KONG — A Sri Lankan family that sheltered the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden after he fled to Hong Kong in 2013 has been given asylum in Canada, an aid group supporting the family said Tuesday.

Supun Thilina Kellapatha and Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis landed in Toronto on Tuesday with their children, Sethumdi and Dinath. They planned to travel on to Montreal and settle there as permanent residents.

“This is the best news I’ve heard in a long, long time,” Mr. Snowden tweeted.

The move ends a long period of uncertainty for the family, who had sought asylum in Hong Kong but were denied it in 2017. Mr. Kellapatha had said he was tortured in Sri Lanka.

“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,” Marc-André Séguin, the president of the aid group For the Refugees, said in a statement.

Mr. Kellapatha and Ms. Nonis had put up Mr. Snowden for about three days in their 250-square-foot apartment in Hong Kong in 2013, just after the contractor had become the focus of intense global attention for his revelations about secret United States surveillance programs.

“He said, ‘You are a good man,’” when he arrived, Mr. Kellapatha recalled in 2016. “But I feel he is better than me because he respected me.”


Credit…Olesya Astakhova/Reuters

Mr. Kellapatha said he did not worry about hosting Mr. Snowden and believed it was the former contractor who was most at risk. The family later used $200 that Mr. Snowden left for them under a pillow to buy food and clothing for their daughter, Sethumdi.

The stay was arranged by a lawyer, Robert Tibbo, under the belief that cramped refugee apartments in poor Hong Kong neighborhoods were the last place anyone would look for one of the world’s most wanted men. That assumption proved correct. Mr. Snowden, after a brief stay at the luxury Mira Hotel, vanished from public view as he moved from one refugee apartment to another.

After about two weeks, he left for exile in Moscow, where he remains today. He faces criminal charges in the United States for disclosure of classified information.

A Filipino refugee who also sheltered Mr. Snowden, Vanessa Mae Bondalian Rodel, was granted asylum in 2019 in Canada along with her daughter, Keana Nihinsa. Canada has not yet approved the application for another refugee who sheltered Mr. Snowden, Ajith Pushpakumara. Mr. Pushpakumara, from Sri Lanka, said he deserted the country’s military and faces possible execution if he is sent back.

“We have no doubt that Ajith’s application will ultimately be accepted, as these others have been, but every day he remains in Hong Kong puts him at risk,” Mr. Séguin said in the statement. “It’s time for Canada to cut through the red tape and finish processing his application.”