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Student’s book about Uighurs on sale now

When 16-year-old Hasna Turner first put pen to paper on a book about the Uighurs in Bermuda, it was meant to be a school project.

But after a year of hard work, Uyghurs: Prisoners in Paradise has found its way on to digital store shelves, with the proceeds going to support its subjects’ legal costs as they fight for British passports.

Hansa, who is preparing to go to school in Britain, said she hoped it would raise awareness about their plight as stateless people.

“People remember them arriving on the island, but now it seems they are suffering in silence because a lot of people have forgotten them or don’t realise that they still live in Bermuda,” she said.

“They received a lot of publicity in 2009 but that was before people had a really clear idea of what happened and who they are.”

The Uighurs — a group of four Muslim men from central Asia — were taken in by Bermuda after being released from a US military-run prison in Cuba’s Guantánamo Bay in 2009.

The move — organised by the US government and former premier Ewart Brown — was highly controversial, grabbing headlines across the world.

The men have since got jobs, married and had children, but because of the circumstances of their arrival, they and their children are considered stateless and so are trapped on the island.

The group have launched a legal battle to get passports for themselves and their children, and the proceeds from the book sales will go towards the fight.

Hasna submitted the book for her personal project in February but it has been edited and revised for publication.

Luke Hansen, a US-based editor and Jesuit priest who met the Uighurs in Bermuda and visited Guantánamo Bay, helped with the book and the Uighurs themselves have given it their approval.

“Khalil [Mamut] and Abdulla [Abdulqadir] were extremely thankful,” she said. “I know Abdulla went through the book with his English teacher and he said he was impressed and thankful for what I have done, really telling their story.

“There was so much speculation about what happened, and I think this will be good for Bermudians to help them understand why they are still here.”

She said that after she learnt about their struggles she wanted to find a way to help them, and using the proceeds from the book to support their legal battle seemed the right thing to do.

“They have been here since 2009 and there hasn’t really been much progress,” she said. “So I thought I was going to do my part to help them.”

Mr Hansen was impressed by Hasna and her work and was happy to help with the book.

“I simply wanted to support her and the men in any way that I could,” he said.

“When I visited the men in Bermuda, they were so hospitable and generous. I learnt about their faith, families, hobbies and the struggle of their imprisonment in Guantánamo.

“Hasna is a very talented writer. She is poetic in the way she crafts her words and uses images to illuminate what she is describing. She also did an extraordinary amount of research for this book.”

The book’s official description said: “This non-fiction book recounts the compelling plight of four Uighurs from central Asia who fled the gruelling oppression of communist China only to be caught in the crossfire of the US-led ‘War on Terror’.”

The description added that the men’s bid to move to Turkey from Afghanistan was derailed after they were captured by Afghan tribesmen and turned over the US forces for a bounty.

It continues: “Ultimately, this resulted in their false imprisonment within the notorious US detention centre in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

“After seven years of being indefinite ‘detainees’ and overcoming unimaginable obstacles while in captivity, their prayers begging for freedom were finally answered. They were released to Bermuda.

“And despite their new-found freedom in a paradise that American author, Mark Twain, once referred to as ‘superior to heaven’, they are stateless and stranded to this day, now remaining as ‘prisoners in paradise’.”

The book is available through Lulu.com. A digital eBook version costs $9.99 and a paperback version is available for $39.99 plus shipping.