Sri Lankan refugee family that hid Snowden in Hong Kong now trapped in limbo

For those who aid U.S.’ "outlaws," no good deed goes unpunished.

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Image Credit: AFP PHOTO / ISAAC LAWRENCEISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP/Getty Images

Hong Kong — The bipartisan vengeance of the US government and its pervasive intelligence apparatus, on display currently in its rabid hounding of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, appears to know no bounds.

But as ugly as the full-court effort to bag Assange, already trapped by US the combined efforts of complicit governments in Britain and Sweden and by US economic pressure on the government of Ecuador are, what it, with the connivance of Canada, is doing here to a lowly and powerless young Sri Lankan refugee family is sicker still.

For six years, all the way back to 2013, members of the Kellapatha family have been prevented from uniting in Canada, where they had been seeking permanent asylum from oppression in their native Sri Lanka, with some members already in Canada and others still trapped in limbo here in this Special Administrative Region metropolis on China’s southern coast.

Their problem?  Back in 2013, at the request of their Hong Kong immigration lawyer Robert Tibbo, the Kellapatha’s generously offered their tiny home in Hong Kong as shelter to another refugee from state repression named Edward Snowden.

Snowden, the famous US National Security Agency contractor who blew the whistle and the lid off of the NSA’s massive and ubiquitous internet and telecommunications spying operation by releasing tens of millions of files on the program to the media, was on the run from a US law enforcement global manhunt and ended up trapped for weeks in Hong Kong, where he was forced to hide out from authorities even to the extent of putting his shut-town electronic devices in a refrigerator to prevent them from being tracked down by NSA technology he knew was able to remotely turn on phones and then locate them and their owners.

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While initially carefully protected from exposure, the family was eventually tracked down and publicly exposed in 2016 for their act of humanitarian generosity to another threatened refugee after release of the biopic film “Snowden.”

Since then, they have found Canada to be unresponsive to their still pending application for asylum.

That leaves the family split. One daughter of Supun Thilina Kellapatha, seven-year-old Keana, the daughter of Supun’s first wife Vanessa May Rodel, has been living in Montreal with her mother since they two received Canadian asylum two years ago. But Keana’s half-sister, born three months later than Keana to Supun’s second wife, Nedeeka Dilrukshi Nonis, is stuck in Hong Kong along with her parents and her three-year-old brother Dinith. The two younger children, both born in Hong Kong, are stateless at present because with their parents having only refugee status in Hong Kong, their births here do not accord them Hong Kong residence either.

It is clear, sources say, that the Canadian government has been ignoring the family’s  petition for asylum — despite documented evidence of their having being persecuted in their home country, because of their role in hiding Snowden in Hong Kong from US authorities seeking to arrest (or kill) him and from Hong Kong authorities seeking to locate him and likely detain him. Snowden was eventually permitted to leave Hong Kong on a plane to Moscow, where, after spending weeks stuck in the Moscow airport, he was finally granted asylum in Russia where he lives and works to this day.

But while Snowden escaped the clutches of US prosecutors, the Kellapatha family continues to pay for their role in helping him get away safely.

It seems unlikely that Canadian immigration authorities are punishing the Kellapatha family on their own initiative. Canada has no particular beef against Snowden after all. Indeed his revelations about the international reach of the NSA’s internet spying operations, including even monitoring the cell phones of the heads of state of US allies (no doubt including Canada’s), were surely appreciated by most foreign governments. The difficulties the Kellapatha’s are experiencing with their relatively simply request for asylum from documented prosecution in their native Sri Lanka clearly are the result, rather, of pressure from the US, where institutional hatred of Snowden remains white hot, and where those who assisted him in fleeing prosecution, like Wikileaks’ founder Assange, are still the subject of unrelenting assault. The family’s attorney Tibbo, a Canadian barrister, has charged that it is the NSA’s and US government’s pressure on the Hong Kong government  that has led the Hong Kong government to deny them permanent refugee status in Hong Kong, and to the Canadian government’s inaction on their asylum application.

I learned about this sad and infuriating case of the Kellapatha family while reading the local English-language daily South China Morning Post. It is a story that should be appearing in the US media, but given the US corporate media’s general antipathy towards Snowden, who gets covered more as a traitor or spy than a hero, as well as a general US antipathy towards immigrants with brown skin, it’s no surprise that the punishment of an impoverished and trapped stateless refugee Tamil family halfway across the globe in Hong Kong that extended a hand to help Snowden escape from the US prosecution “justice” system would be viewed as a non-story in the US media.

In the Morning Post article, which ran May 29, Supun Kellapatha says he remembers lying on his family’s one bed in their cramped Hong Kong flat alongside their notorious fugitive guest and saying he believed Snowden would have a good future. He recalls Snowden laughing, “because he thought he could be killed or something. And I asked him: please, talk about the refugees in Hong Kong when you leave.”  He says Snowden has subsequently done so, but adds, “I just hope that Canada is listening.”

Sadly, from what I can see, few in Canada are listening, but clearly no one in the US is either, because no one in the US media is even reporting to us about this outrage, or for that matter, paying much attention to Edward Snowden himself.

The author was a foreign correspondent in the Hong Kong bureau of Business Week magazine covering Hong Kong, China and surrounding countries from 1992 through 1997.

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