Hong Kong maids lured by IS re­cruiters: Re­port

Kuwait Times - - LOCAL -

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. Around 150,000 of the city’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, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from the Jakarta-based In­sti­tute for Pol­icy Anal­y­sis of Con­flict (IPAC).

But rights ac­tivists and the In­done­sian Mus­lim com­mu­nity in Hong Kong said they were un­aware of rad­i­cals and fear that re­ported links with IS would breed un­fair sus­pi­cion. The IPAC in­ves­ti­ga­tion de­scribed a “rad­i­cal fringe” of around 45 In­done­sian do­mes­tic helpers, who may 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,” says IPAC an­a­lyst Nava Nu­raniyah. “But some joined ISIS as a path to em­pow­er­ment.” 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. But the IPAC re­port said ill-treat­ment did not seem to have played a di­rect role in rad­i­cal­iza­tion, al­though it had led to the es­tab­lish­ment of an Is­lamic ad­vo­cacy group to act as a kind of union.

The war in Syria has fu­elled in­ter­est in mil­i­tant groups as ji­hadi so­cial me­dia 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 which has pub­lished nu­mer­ous re­ports on con­flicts in South­east Asia.

Ris­ing ‘Is­lamiza­tion’ at home

Hong Kong me­dia has pre­vi­ously re­ported about IS sup­port­ers leaflet­ing In­done­sian do­mes­tic helpers as they gath­ered in public spa­ces across the city on Sun­days, their day off. One heav­ily preg­nant maid who went miss­ing in 2015 was said to have told friends she was plan­ning to link up with Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in Syria along­side her hus­band, ac­cord­ing to the South China Morn­ing Post.

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

“We are Mus­lim by religion and we or­ga­nize a lot of Mus­lim ac­tiv­i­ties... we don’t do rad­i­cal­iza­tion,” Les­tari told AFP. “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 “Is­lami­sa­tion” in In­done­sia, which has also seen more women wear­ing veils, Les­tari said. But helpers were 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 IS links would have. Her em­ployer had re­cently asked her if she knew about the rad­i­cal group, she told AFP. Po­lice also came to watch ac­tiv­i­ties held by mem­bers of her group, which in­clude teach­ing how to pray and read the Ko­ran, she said. “Is­lam is not ex­treme,” she added, say­ing she did not know any IS sup­port­ers. In­done­sia has long strug­gled with Is­lamic mil­i­tancy and hun­dreds of rad­i­cals from the South­east Asian state have flocked to fight with IS.

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