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Hong Kong rejects asylum for refugees who sheltered Snowden

Hong Kong rejects asylum for refugees who sheltered Snowden

They have spent years hoping the government would recognize their cases and save them from being sent back to their home countries, where they say they were persecuted.

The Sri Lankan asylum seekers who sheltered the American whistle-blower Edward Snowden when he was hiding in Hong Kong in 2013 are facing possible detention and deportation from the city after their claims for asylum were officially rejected, their lawyer Robert Tibbo said Monday.

At the time, he was on the run from USA authorities after he leaked documents about US government surveillance.

"The government's decision to reject our clients' claims is completely consistent with the effective zero acceptance rate [of asylum seekers] in Hong Kong", Tibbo tells TIME, calling the decision "completely unreasonable".

The refugees also applied for asylum in Canada.

His clients now face deportation, as well as the risk they would be "detained and their children placed in government custody".

"We now have less than two weeks to submit appeals before the families are deported", Mr Tibbo said.

Tibbo chose to go public with their identities past year after learning that movie director Oliver Stone had found out about them and would incorporate their role into his film on Snowden, released in October.

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His whereabouts during the two weeks in Hong Kong remained unknown until fairly recently. However, journalists independently discovered their identities shortly before the release of an Oliver Stone movie about Snowden that shows him being hidden among asylum-seekers in Hong Kong.

One of the refugee applicants, Ajith, said he is convinced he will be killed if he returns to Sri Lanka.

Their stories only emerged late a year ago.

The group includes a Sri Lankan couple with two children, a Sri Lankan man and a Filipino mother and daughter.

However, it is bound by the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) and considers claims for protection based on those grounds.

After government screening, claimants found to be at risk of persecution are referred to the UN's refugee agency, which can try to resettle them to a safe third country. Less than one percent of refugees succeed in their efforts, leaving around 11,000 now in limbo and constant fear of deportation.

The Hong Kong government "has repeatedly tried to question the four adults about their involvement with Mr. Snowden", Tibbo said.

Hong Kong's rejection of the group "puts them in an even more vulnerable position, and triggers a need for urgent protection", says Marc-André Séguin, one of the Canadian attorneys representing the group in the country.

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