By Abigail Abrams
March 10, 2017

Refugees who sheltered former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in Hong Kong are now seeking asylum in Canada, their lawyers said on Thursday.

The three families are at risk for persecution and grave consequences if they stay in Hong Kong, according to their layers from a non-profit called For the Refugees. “More than ever, relocating our clients to Canada is a question of life and death,” one of the Canadian attorneys, Marc-André Séguin, said in a statement.

Snowden fled the United States in 2013 after leaking thousands of files about the NSA’s surveillance operations. The refugee families fed and housed him for two weeks before he left for Russia, according to the BBC.

In recent weeks, the refugees’ lawyers felt they needed to speed up their asylum process, Séguin told the South China Morning Post. Two of the refugees have said they are being pursued by police from Sri Lanka, where they are originally from, according to the newspaper. They fear the Sri Lankan government could torture them if they were captured.

Snowden tweeted about the effort to secure asylum for the refugees on Thursday, and others, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who played the whistleblower in the recent film about him, have also tried to raise awareness, according to the BBC.

Write to Abigail Abrams at abigail.abrams@time.com.

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