Hong Kong asylum denied to group that helped Snowden

"The director of immigration does not believe in our clients", Robert Tibbo, one of the lawyers of the refugees, said after the decision.

A group of refugees who sheltered former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden have been denied asylum in Hong Kong, according to their lawyer.

The families have said they are too scared to return homes in the Philippines and Sri Lanka for fear of persecution.

Snowden was brought to stay with the families in 2013 when he was on the run from the United States government, because Tibbo says he thought it would be the last place the authorities would look for him.

Tibbo chose to go public with their identities previous 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.

His whereabouts were a mystery during that time and it was not until previous year that the role Tibbo and his clients played in sheltering Snowden was revealed.

"Those who helped Edward Snowden in Hong Kong when he was seeking asylum now find themselves at dire risk if sent back to their countries", Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at the Human Rights Watch organization, said. In October 2016, Sri Lankan Criminal Investigation Department officers were in Hong Kong trying to locate the asylum-seekers, showing their photographs to people there. "For example, about how long had Mr. Snowden been staying with them, what was Mr. Snowden's movement in the territory, which is irrelevant to the (asylum) claims", he said.

The asylum-seekers, from Sri Lanka and the Philippines, housed Mr Snowden for two weeks when he fled the USA after leaking thousands of files.

As well as Rodel and Pushpakumara, the group includes a Sri Lankan couple with two young children.

"We now have less than two weeks to submit appeals before the families are deported", Mr Tibbo said, calling the decision "completely unreasonable". Refugees are screened and then referred to the United Nations, that can then resettle them in a safe third country.

The BBC quoted Marc-Andre Seguin, a Canadian lawyer helping the asylum seekers for their separate applications with Canada, as saying the Sri Lankans and Rodel might have been targeted by HK immigration. Less than one percent of refugees succeed in their efforts, leaving around 11,000 now in limbo and constant fear of deportation.

The families could now be split up and detained by the immigration authorities in Hong Kong, or face deportation to their home countries where they say they were persecuted.

A non-profit group is attempting to raise the estimated $15,000 to cover the appeals.