Lawyer Robert Tibbo (center) holds Vanessa Rodel and her daughter Keana as the pair arrive at Toronto airport in Canada on a flight from Hong Kong on March 25, 2019. Photo: Cole Burston / AFP.

A 42-year-old Filipino woman who helped shelter former Central Intelligence Agency employee Edward Snowden in Hong Kong after he leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency has been granted refugee status in Canada.

Vanessa Rodel and her seven-year-old daughter Karen arrived in Toronto on Tuesday morning, The Associated Press reported.

“I feel so great and I feel like I’m free,” she said.

Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily had an exclusive interview with Rodel before her departure.

Because of an alleged kidnap and rape by militants in her homeland, Rodel went to Hong Kong and did domestic work. However, she could not stand the heavy workload and was allegedly treated badly by her employer.

Both sides later agreed to end her employment contract, but Rodel was not able to find another job in the city.

After, Rodel overstayed in Hong Kong and was arrested in 2010. She filed a torture claim but the Hong Kong government rejected her application. Lawyer Robert Tibbo represented her for an appeal in 2013.

Rodel recalled that in 2013 Tibbo came to her home with a man and asked for her help to shelter him, as the man was in trouble.

‘He’s a hero’

Later, when she read a newspaper, she found out the man who stayed in her home was Edward Snowden.

After figuring out the situation, Rodel believed in Snowden and wanted to help protect him. “He did the right thing – for me he is a hero,” she said.

Former US security contractor Edward Snowden speaks via video link from Russia as he takes part in a meeting on improving protection for whistle-blowers on March 15, 2019, at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. Photo: Frederick Florin / AFP

She refused to disclose the place and details of where he was sheltered, saying only that Snowden played with her daughter and they celebrated his birthday together.

She described Snowden as a nice, friendly man and said he gave her HK$200 (US$25) when he left.

Sri Lankans still in limbo

Altogether there were three families who harbored Snowden in 2013. The others were a Sri Lankan couple with two young children, plus a Sri Lankan man. They went public after movie director Oliver Stone found them and incorporated their roles into his film on Snowden.

After the families’ identities were revealed, the International Social Service’s Hong Kong branch asked Rodel how long Snowden stayed with her. She refused to answer – and that led to the family having their support payment being cut off.

ISS-HK is contracted by the government’s Social Welfare Department to provide humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers who seek refugee status in Hong Kong and non-refoulement (not to be forcibly returned to their homeland). ISS-HK told the paper claims that it cut off the families’ support for this reason were wrong, but it would not comment on the cases due to privacy restrictions.

Tibbo said he realized the Hong Kong government would refuse to grant the families’ asylum (most applicants are allegedly rejected), so he helped them file claims to live in Canada.

Rodel said she hardly believed that her dream had come true when told that Canada had granted asylum for her and her daughter. She hoped she could do further studies in Canada and become a journalist in the future.

But both of the Sri Lankan applicants are still awaiting word on whether Canada will accept them as refugees. And the lawyer Tibbo, a Canadian who had lived in Hong Kong for years, fled the city after fearing that police were about to arrest him on trumped-up charges.

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