Vanessa Mae Rodel, 42, and her seven-year-old daughter Keana Nihinsa, travel by public bus from Castle Peak Immigration Centre, in Hong Kong on March 18, 2019. ( MARIA DE LA GUARDIA)

She hid fugitive Edward Snowden

By Ted Alcuitas

Canada has accepted as refugees a Filipina domestic worker in Hong Kong and her seven-year old  daughter.

Vanessa Rodel’s life as a domestic worker changed drastically six years after she and two other families provided refuge to American whistleblower Edward Snowden, a contractor for a U.S. spy-agency who in 2013 became the world’s most wanted man after leaking details of U.S. mass-surveillance programs.

For about four days, Snowden hid in the dingy, cramped one-bedroom apartment Rodel lived in with her mother and toddler.

When news broke of the refugees’ connection to Snowden in 2016, welfare and immigration authorities grilled them about it relentlessly, cut off their already paltry social assistance and then rejected their asylum cases entirely.

A nightmare

A visit home to the Philippines in 2000 turned nightmarish when she was kidnapped and raped. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was taken away from her and is now believed to be dead, according to media reports.

Shortly after escaping her aggressors, Rodel fled back to Hong Kong, where she applied for asylum in 2010 and became a client of Canadian lawyer Rob Tibbo in 2012.

Tibbo, who represents all the refugees as well as Snowden, went public about the refugees’ role in helping Snowden after learning a 2016 film by Oliver Stone would feature them, according to the National Post. Tibbo explained that he had arranged for Snowden to stay with the refugee families because no one would think to look for the whistleblower in the slums, adding that it had been legal and done with their full consent.

In December 2017, Tibbo fled Hong Kong, citing political pressure for his work with Snowden and the refugees. The Canadian national had lived and worked in Hong Kong for more than a decade, according to Ricochet.

 The Montreal-based non-profit For the Refugees, founded by three Canadian lawyers, took up the refugees’ case in 2016. 

Their acceptance marks the first breakthrough for a Canadian team trying to help the three asylum-seeking families who hid Snowden, and who believe they have been harassed and targeted for deportation as a result.

“I really couldn’t believe it: ‘Is this really true?’” Rodel, 42, recalled of that late-night January phone call with Canadian lawyer Rob Tibbo. “I was so extremely happy. I said ‘My birthday is coming and Keana’s birthday is coming … This is a very good present for me.’”

Her eagerness to get to Canada was plain when the National Post met them in the mother and daughter’s minuscule apartment on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island. 

The others who helped Snowden — a Sri Lankan couple with two young children and another single Sri Lankan man — are still awaiting word on whether Canada will accept them as refugees. And the long years as second-class citizens in Hong Kong — with the ever-present threat of being returned to the countries they fled in fear — seem to be having a dire impact, the National Post reports.