Thu, Jul 27, 2017 - Page 5 News List

HK maids radicalized by Islamic State: report

AFP, HONG KONG

Indonesian maids working in Hong Kong are being radicalized by extremists from the Islamic State group, a security think tank said in a report yesterday.

About 150,000 of the territory’s army of domestic helpers are from Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

Against a backdrop of growing religious conservatism at home, a small number of militant maids has emerged, a report from the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) said.

However, rights activists and the Indonesian Muslim community in Hong Kong said they were unaware of radicals and fear that reported links with the Islamic State would breed unfair suspicion.

The IPAC investigation described a “radical fringe” of about 45 Indonesian domestic helpers who might have been attracted to militant circles by “the search for a sense of community in an unfamiliar environment.”

“Some of these women were drawn by jihadi boyfriends they met online, but some joined ISIS as a path to empowerment,” IPAC analyst Nava Nuraniyah said, referring to the Islamic State by one of several acronyms used to describe the group.

A string of abuse cases has highlighted the exploitation of maids in Hong Kong by unscrupulous employment agencies, which confiscate their passports, claim their wages and keep them in the dark about their rights.

However, the report said ill-treatment did not seem to have played a direct role in radicalization, although it had led to the establishment of a Muslim advocacy group to act as a kind of union.

The war in Syria has fueled interest in militant groups, as jihadi social media have stoked sympathy for Sunni victims, the report said.

It told the story of one woman who turned to radicalism after years of turmoil in her personal life and became a key player in helping Indonesian jihadis get to Syria, sometimes via Hong Kong.

A handful of maids ended up going to Syria themselves, said IPAC, a leading think tank that has published numerous reports on conflicts in Southeast Asia.

Hong Kong media have reported about Islamic State supporters leafleting Indonesian domestic helpers as they gather in public spaces across the territory on Sundays, their day off.

One heavily pregnant maid who went missing in 2015 reportedly told friends she was planning to link up with Islamic State militants in Syria alongside her husband, the South China Morning Post reported.

The Indonesian community in Hong Kong has tripled in the past 17 years due to the demand for domestic helpers, and religious teaching and prayer groups have grown alongside it.

However, Indonesian migrant rights activist and former domestic helper Eni Lestari said that while the threat of extremism was always a possibility, she was unaware of Islamic State supporters among them.

“We are Muslim by religion and we organize a lot of Muslim activities... We don’t do radicalization,” Lestari told reporters. “I think it’s really unfair for the Indonesian domestic worker community to be labeled.”

Prayer groups and visits from clerics have become more common in Hong Kong due to rising “Islamization” in Indonesia, which has also seen more women wearing veils, Lestari said.

However, helpers are now fearful about organizing religious events as police regularly question them, she added.

Domestic helper Romlah Rosyidah, chairwoman of the Indonesian Migrant Muslim Alliance in Hong Kong, said she worried about the impact reported Islamic State links would have.

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