Canada grants asylum to family who helped Edward Snowden

The Canadian government has granted refugee status to two asylum seekers who helped U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden hide from authorities while he was on the run in Hong Kong, a spokesperson for the group that privately sponsored the family confirmed.

Vanessa Rodel, 42, and her seven-year-old daughter Keana are among a group of seven asylum seekers who housed Snowden after he fled the United States in 2013.

“Me and Keana can have a real life, a real future in Canada,” Rodel told Radio-Canada in an interview.

“I’m so happy.”

Rodel had been living in Hong Kong since 2002, after fleeing her home in the Philippines. She applied for asylum in 2010, but her claim was rejected.

In 2013, a Montreal-based lawyer working with Snowden came up with a plan to hide him in the homes of refugees and asylum seekers in Hong Kong.

Snowden was wanted by U.S. authorities for leaking highly classified government documents about government surveillance programs. He had been a contract worker for the U.S. National Security Agency until he fled the country, ultimately escaping to Russia, where he still lives.

A non-profit organization called For the Refugees submitted applications to sponsor all seven of the refugees in 2016, said a spokesperson for the group, Ethan Cox.

“Vanessa and her daughter have been accepted as privately sponsored refugees,” he said. “Right now, the long nightmare is over for Vanessa and Keana.”

Turning to Canada for help

After housing Snowden, Rodel feared Hong Kong authorities would step up their efforts to deport her to the Philippines, where she fears for her life.

Rodel told Radio-Canada that Hong Kong authorities questioned her about Snowden, but when she refused to co-operate, her social assistance was cut off.

A group of Canadian lawyers stepped in to help Rodel and the five others by setting up a non-profit organization and applying to bring them to Canada as privately sponsored refugees.

“They are extremely brave people who have nothing, but when someone in distress needed them, they opened their doors,” said Montreal-based Guillaume Cliche-Rivard, one of the lawyers.

“Instead of letting them live in a terrible situation without a future, we wanted to do something for them, as they wanted to do something for Edward Snowden.”

‘Tremendous distress’

Rodel’s was the first claim to be accepted and though it has given hope to the others, Cliche-Rivard said there is an urgency to their cases, and he hopes the government acts quickly.

“The clients are facing tremendous distress [in Hong Kong],” he said. “Removal for the other five are pending, so Canada cannot take another year or two to decide their cases.”

In a tweet after Rodel’s flight took off, Snowden expressed his gratitude to those who helped her.

“After so many years, the first of the families who helped me is free and has a future. But the work is not over — with solidarity and compassion, Canada can save them all,” he wrote.

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