Asylum seekers who housed US whistle-blower Snowden to sue Canadian government over refugee claims
Fearing deportation from Hong Kong, they hope federal court will order authorities to expedite their case
The seven asylum seekers who housed American whistle-blower Edward Snowden in Hong Kong in 2013 are set to sue the Canadian government on Tuesday for failing to expedite their refugee claims, which were filed in January.
The group has already seen their protection claims rejected by the Immigration Department in Hong Kong in May. Though they have since filed appeals, the seven are now at further risk of detention and eventual deportation to their home countries, where they claim they face violence and persecution.
The asylum seekers’ legal team in Canada is preparing to file an order of “mandamus”, an injunction in which they will ask the federal court to order the government to expedite their claims, based on the fact that the seven are in an “extremely vulnerable” situation in Hong Kong.
Canadian immigration minister Ahmed Hussen has discretionary powers to speed up the screening.
Marc-André Séguin, an immigration lawyer for the seven based in Montreal, said the Canadian consulate in Hong Kong, which is responsible for handling their cases, would do so on a “first come, first served basis”. According to the lawyer, the average processing time of such claims at the consulate is about 52 months – more than four years.
“We repeatedly tried to convey the urgent needs of our clients. There is no time, given that they are particularly vulnerable at the moment. We have to get them before they are deported,” Séguin said. He noted that his aim was to bring the seven asylum seekers to Canada before August 1.
The group of claimants is in fear of detention because from early August they will have to report to Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre, a facility for immigration detainees awaiting repatriation or deportation.
Asylum seekers in Hong Kong have to report back to the authorities on a regular basis, usually every four or six weeks.
There has been no official confirmation that the seven will be detained at their next appointment. However, the fact that their cases were transferred to Castle Peak Bay from another department has sparked fears among the asylum seekers that they might soon lose their freedom.
After seeing their claims rejected in May in Hong Kong, the seven filed an appeal. The first hearings were held on Monday. The next ones will be in October and November. If the appeals fail, they can still request a judicial review by the city’s High Court.
In the event that both attempts are unsuccessful, the claimants will be detained and then deported to their countries of origin. The director of the Immigration Department can, however, order their detention at any moment.
“The evidence is clear that our clients might be detained. We have been diligently and promptly informing the Canadian government about their situation,” Séguin said. “We hope a judge will reach the same conclusion as us or at least that we can bring them over before the consulate evaluates their claims.”
Séguin has been calling on the Canadian authorities to extend temporary protection to the asylum seekers while their cases are being screened. He said this would be at no cost to Canadian taxpayers as organisation For The Refugees would take care of all the basic needs of the seven.
The NGO was set up in Quebec in November by three lawyers – including Séguin – to support the refugees who helped Snowden. It has already collected more than US$100,000 in donations.
The seven asylum seekers also received letters of support from Quebec Liberal member of parliament Marc Miller.
In the formal documents, sent on June 14, Miller said he had worked with For The Refugees and that they were assisting the families with their applications for permanent residency under Quebec’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Programme.
Miller said he hoped the seven “would remain free in Hong Kong while their applications are being evaluated” by the Canadian consulate.
The group that sheltered the former US National Security Agency and CIA contractor in Hong Kong, after he fled the United States and leaked confidential documents, includes four adults and three stateless children born in Hong Kong: Ajith Pushpakumara, a former soldier from Sri Lanka; Supun Thilina Kellapatha, his wife Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis and their two children, also from Sri Lanka; and Vanessa Mae Rodel from the Philippines, who has a five-year-old daughter.
On Monday last week, the refugees’ legal representatives in Canada sent a letter to the government asking it to “expedite the process in light of the fact they can be imminently detained” in Hong Kong. But because their demands have not been met so far, they are planning to go ahead with the court order on Tuesday.
Referring to their cases, Human Rights Watch said in a statement in May that “Canada has the opportunity to prevent a terrible outcome and should act immediately”.
Unlike many other countries, Canada has proudly taken a leading role in accepting and welcoming refugees. In April, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees praised Canada for providing solutions to a record number of 46,700 refugees through their resettlement in the country last year.