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Refugee urges Canada to take in others who sheltered Snowden

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Montreal (AFP)

A woman granted asylum in Canada after sheltering Edward Snowden urged Ottawa on the first day of her new life Tuesday to take in five others who helped the fugitive former US government contractor and are facing deportation from Hong Kong.

Vanessa Rodel and her seven-year-old daughter Keana landed in Toronto late Monday on a flight from Hong Kong.

At a news conference on Tuesday, she expressed joy and eagerness to start a new life. "I'm so happy to be in Canada," she said.

But she added that the five others, including her daughter's father and two step-siblings, remain in Hong Kong awaiting appeal decisions on their respective refugee claims.

"I don't want them left behind," Rodel said. "I don't want (them) to feel like I forgot about them because I'm here now in Canada."

The group gained notoriety three years ago when their Snowden assistance was revealed in Oliver Stone's biopic.

Rodel arrived in Hong Kong in 2002 after fleeing violence and human-trafficking in the Philippines.

Snowden's other so-called "Guardian Angels" have been identified as a couple from Sri Lanka, Supun Kellapatha and Nadeeka Paththini, and their two young children, and a Sri Lankan army deserter, Ajit Kumara, who is Keana's father.

Their initial refugee claims in Hong Kong were rejected.

- 'Certain death' -

Lawyer Marc-Andre Seguin of the non-governmental group For the Refugees, which sponsored Rodel and her daughter, said Kumara faces "certain death" if returned to Sri Lanka.

"We are very happy of course that Canada has agreed to give Vanessa and Keana protection, but we are still worried about the fate of those who remain behind," Seguin said.

At a time when other nations have closed their doors to migrants, Canada's Liberal government has made welcoming newcomers a priority.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland have at times been on hand to personally greet new arrivals -- handing out parkas to Syrian refugees in 2015, and in January hugging a young woman who fled Saudi Arabia.

When asked by reporters about the plight of the "Angels," Trudeau said decisions are made by immigration officials on "a case by case basis."

Seguin said, however, that the immigration minister has discretionary powers to intervene to provide protection to the most vulnerable in exceptional circumstances.

The "Angels" put up Snowden, a former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, in their tiny apartments in 2013 while he was in Hong Kong on the run from US authorities.

His leaks of highly classified documents revealed the existence of global surveillance programs run by the NSA in cooperation with partners Australia, Britain and Canada.

Snowden, who now lives in Russia, was charged in June 2013 in the United States with espionage and stealing state secrets.

Canada granted Rodel, a Philippine national, and her daughter asylum in January but it was kept secret for security reasons, according to For the Refugees.

She was due to travel to Montreal later in the day where she and her daughter will settle.

"When (Snowden) came to my home and knocked on my door... I didn't know who he was," Rodel recalled.

"The next morning he told me to buy a newspaper so when I got the newspaper and saw him on the front page in a big photo I knew he was the one -- the most wanted man in the world," she said.

"He needed help and I wanted to help him."

Snowden, Stone and Human Rights Watch have added their voices to a growing chorus of supporters calling on Canada to grant asylum to the five.

"They opened their doors to me," Snowden told public broacaster CBC. "They didn't ask, they didn't care what happened to me. They knew what it was like to be hunted, to be chased, to be retaliated against."

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