Canada has granted protection to a family who sheltered Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who leaked documents regarding top-secret surveillance programs in the U.S.
Four of the “Snowden refugees,” a name used to refer to individuals who sheltered the ex-NSA contractor after he fled the U.S., arrived in Canada on Tuesday, according to spokesman Ethan Cox of For the Refugees, a nonprofit organization that sponsored their application for refugee status.
Supun Thilina Kellapatha and Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis — along with their children Sethumdi, 9, and Dinath, 5 — arrived at their apartment in Montreal on Tuesday night, which was already set up for them, Cox said.
The family had previously been living in uncertainty in Hong Kong after authorities in the country turned down their request for asylum in 2017.
When Snowden arrived in Hong Kong after leaving the U.S., he stayed in a hotel, according to the Post. After he identified himself as the whistleblower behind the leak of NSA documents, however, he went underground.
Canadian human rights lawyer Robert Tibbo, who was assisting Snowden at the time, reportedly asked a coalition of asylum-seeker clients residing in tenements in Hong Kong if they would take in an American contractor, to which they said yes.
Kellapatha and Nonis were part of that group, according to the Post.
Snowden stayed with the refugees for two weeks before he traveled to Russia, where he was granted asylum. In October 2020, he was granted permanent asylum in the country.
For the Refugees on Tuesday said the family was “hours away from becoming permanent residents of Canada.”
They are reuniting with Vanessa Rodel and her daughter Keana, who is also Supun’s daughter, in Canada, where they were accepted in the country as privately-sponsored refugees in March 2019.
Snowden applauded the announcement that the four refugees were traveling to Canada, writing in a tweet that it was “the best news I’ve heard in a long, long time.”
This is the best news I've heard in a long, long time. It would not have possible without the generosity of so many of you who made this happen.— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) September 28, 2021
We need to bring one more home before we can say we're done, but I cannot thank you enough for bringing us this far. Together, we win! https://t.co/vo3qlDmfj3
The ex-NSA contractor now faces a number of criminal charges in the U.S.
Marc-André Séguin, the president of For the Refugees, wrote in a statement that the family can “now begin to build new lives in Canada.”
“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,” Séguin said.
Cox told The Hill that circumstances have been difficult for the two families who were separated for a considerable amount of time.
“It has been difficult, it has been a large gap between when Vanessa and Keana came in March 2019 and now, I think they’re very happy to be reunited,” he said.
Cox also said Hong Kong has been a “bad place” for the refugees because “asylum seekers there they have very few rights, they’re unable to work or provide for themselves.”