A group of Montreal, Quebec, lawyers — Marc-André Séguin, Francis Tourigny and Michael Simkin — have teamed up to help asylum seekers in Hong Kong who housed Edward Snowden in 2013.
The lawyers set up a non-governmental fundraising organization named For the Refugees in November for the individuals who sheltered the American whistleblower for about two weeks.
The asylum seekers said they wanted to leave Hong Kong and relocate to Canada.
“I would choose Canada… I heard I could have good protection and hopefully I could work,” 44-year-old Ajith Pushpakumara, a former soldier from Sri Lanka who arrived in Hong Kong in 2006, told the South China Morning Post.
Vanessa Mae Rodel, a Filipina mother of a 4-year-old girl, has lived in the city since 2010 but declined to say why she fled her home country.
“I can’t go back because something bad will happen to me, especially now with our new president,” Rodel told the Globe and Mail. “I think for me he could easily shoot me. He could do anything. All I want is for me and my daughter, my family, to be safe and have freedom. And I want to work and get an education for my daughter.”
Sri Lankan Supun Thilina Kellapatha, who lives in Hong Kong with his wife Nadeeka Dilrukski Nonis and their two children, said he was tortured in his homeland.
The group of Montreal lawyers are now pressuring the Canadian government to assist in resettling the families.
“The first objective is to make people aware of who these families are and what they have done, the second is to collect donations so their basic needs can be met, and the third is to provide Canadians a vehicle to voice their concern and tell the Canadian government they feel these families belong in their communities,” Séguin told the Sunday Morning Post.
Human rights lawyer, Robert Tibbo, who helped Snowden hide in Hong Kong and has represented the three families since 2012, said he has been speaking with Séguin, Tourigny and Simkin over the last few months.
Tibbo hopes Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would carry out the promise he made at the UN conference in September to support refugees.
“I would expect that Mr. Trudeau will follow through on that commitment,” he said.
Tibbo said relocating to a third country would be good for the three families.
“The Hong Kong government has completely failed to meet these families’ basic needs and the acceptance rate is effectively zero,” he opined. “This means they will have to return to their countries eventually.”
Hong Kong doesn’t resettle asylum seekers, but it is required to screen torture claims.
“If Hong Kong was fulfilling its international legal obligations towards asylum seekers, there would not be this dilemma today with these families,” Tibbo said.