The Radicalisation of Indonesian Women Workers in Hong Kong

(Jakarta, 26 July 2017) The Indonesian government needs to work with overseas labor recruiting agencies and civil society organisations to ensure that migrant workers, particularly women, are not drawn into extremist cells.

The Radicalisation of Indonesian Women Workers in Hong Kong, the latest report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), looks at how a tiny cell of some 50 extremist domestic workers has developed within the 153,000-strong Indonesian community in Hong Kong.

“Some of these women were drawn in by jihadi boyfriends they met online,” says Nava Nuraniyah, IPAC analyst. “But some joined ISIS as a path to empowerment.”

The report charts the development of the Indonesian Muslim community in Hong Kong where the number of workers, overwhelmingly women, has tripled since 2000, fuelled by a demand for domestic workers. Indonesian labor agencies marketed Indonesian women as being cheaper and more pliable than the better trained and better organised Philippine maids but while the workers were systematically underpaid and exploited, this abuse was not a direct factor in radicalisation.

The search for a sense of community in an unfamiliar environment may have been more important. The growth of the Muslim community was accompanied by a rise in religious outreach (dakwah) activities by Indonesian clerics, starting with moderates but gradually coming to include the full ideological spectrum including Salafi and jihadi. Indonesian women found friends in these dakwah groups that often acted as surrogate families. When one was drawn into a radical circle, others followed.

In some cases, personal troubles led to a search for rebirth and renewal through “pure” Islam but it was the Syria conflict that drew several women toward support for Islamic State. They saw fighters as heroes and were eager to offer logistical and financial support. Some developed personal relationships online with would-be fighters and then helped them get to Syria or sought to join them there.  Several ended up simply being exploited by their online boyfriends, including those detained in Indonesian prisons, who saw the maids as an endless supply of cash.

The report calls on the Indonesian government to work with overseas employment agencies and migrant rights groups to include training modules that alert Indonesian women to the risk of exploitation by extremist men. It also calls on the Indonesian consulate in Hong Kong to work more closely with local ulama and the Hong Kong authorities to ensure that known extremist clerics are not given visas to spread hatred in the migrant community.

“In the end,” says Nuraniyah, “the best partner for the Indonesian and Hong Kong governments in preventing radicalisation of migrant workers is the broader Muslim community itself”.

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©2013 Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.