Back in 2016, I blogged about a family of Sri Lankan asylum-seeking refugees in Hong Kong who in 2013 hid Edward Snowden in their tiny apartment when he was hiding from the media and the clutches of the vindictive Obama administration. This was after he left the hotel from where he had released his bombshell revelations about the massive spying efforts waged by the US and its allies against their own citizens. The family sheltered him for two weeks before he was able to get to get out of Hong Kong and into Russia where he now lives. The role of this family was only revealed in 2016 in the Oliver Stone film Snowden.
Hiding a high-profile fugitive was risky for people seeking asylum since it likely constitutes an illegal act that can be is grounds for denial of their claim but they did it anyway. The article describes the conditions under which they were living.
Inside Supun’s cramped two-and-a-half-room living space, a threadbare cotton sheet covers a small filthy window where an air conditioner wheezes incessantly. Supun, 32, Nadeeka, 33, and their now-four-year-old daughter and newborn son Dinath sleep on a mattress that barely fits in a room no bigger than a large janitor’s closet. A stuffed Minnie Mouse toy rests against a pillow and piles of bags containing their meagre belongings are jammed into a corner.
In the adjacent room where we sit on three plastic red stools are a small refrigerator, tattered green upholstered chair and ancient Dell desktop computer. A nearby bathroom doubles as the kitchen, with pots and pans stacked on top and underneath the sink and toilet.
This is the kind of place where Snowden hid from the world during the first days he went underground. “You’re a good man to take care of me,” Supun said Snowden told him. When they asked what the stranger liked to eat, he replied, burgers and spaghetti. Armed with the money Tibbo gave him, Supun went to buy food while Nadeeka prepared the only bed in the house for their unexpected guest.
The documentarian Laura Poitras, who filmed Snowden in the hotel room, said, “I think these are very brave, selfless people who did something extraordinary at a very difficult time and at enormous personal risk.” Snowden was grateful for their help.
“Imagine the world’s most wanted dissident brought to your door. Would you open it? They didn’t even hesitate, and I’ll always be grateful for that,” Snowden said in an exclusive encrypted text to the Post.
For the vulnerable people back in Hong Kong who helped him escape to safety, the danger is potentially more palpable. According to Tibbo, Snowden sent them each US$1,000 when he realized he may have unwittingly put them at risk by revealing their role for the Hollywood movie.
“They had a hundred chances to betray me while I was amongst them, and no one could have blamed them, given their precarious situations. But they never did,” Snowden said. “If not for their compassion, my story could have ended differently. They taught me no matter who you are, no matter what you have, sometimes a little courage can change the course of history.”
But the family’s fortunes took a downturn when their asylum claim was later rejected, meaning that they might have been forced to return to Sri Lanka. Now comes word that the families have been granted asylum in Canada.
Canada granted asylum to four people who hid former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in their tiny Hong Kong apartments when he was on the run after stealing a trove of classified documents.
The four – Supun Thilina Kellapatha, Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis and their children Sethumdi and Dinath – landed in Toronto on Tuesday and were due to go on to Montreal to “start their new lives”, non-profit For the Refugees said in a statement.
The non-governmental group had in 2019 sponsored two other Snowden “Guardian Angels” Vanessa Rodel and her daughter Keana, originally from the Philippines but living in Hong Kong at the time, while continuing to lobby the Canadian government to take in others they said faced persecution in the former British colony.
Poor people who, despite the risks, helped someone in need and finally have their lives improve.
That is the kind of story we need to hear from time to time.