Indonesian women migrant workers in Hong Kong have been targeted by extremist groups to raise funds for acts of terrorism through social media, experts said on Tuesday (19/12). (Photo courtesy of the Cabinet Secretariat)

Indonesian Women Migrant Workers Are Becoming Increasingly Radicalized Through Social Media


DECEMBER 19, 2017

Jakarta. Indonesian women migrant workers in Hong Kong have been targeted by extremist groups to raise funds for acts of terrorism through social media, experts said on Tuesday (19/12).

According to Solahudin, a researcher at the Terrorism and Social Conflict Studies Center at the University of Indonesia, social media has played a key role in the radicalization of Indonesian migrant workers in Hong Kong.

"The radicalization process occurs very rapidly, because extremist groups on Facebook, Telegram and Whatsapp spread their propaganda very intensively," Solahudin said during a public discussion in Jakarta, citing popular used social media platforms.

Women make up around 95 percent of more than 150,000 Indonesian migrant workers in Hong Kong. Most of them are employed as maids, nannies or caretakers for the elderly.

In July, Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) published a report estimating that there are 45 Indonesian women migrant workers in Hong Kong actively supporting the Islamic State.

A number of terrorist cases in the past year have been traced back to Indonesian women who had previously been migrant workers.

That includes a woman who prepared to carry out a suicide bombing attack at the presidential palace in Jakarta last December. More recently, another woman was involved in plans to detonate a chemical bomb in the West Java city of Bandung in August. Both plans were foiled by the police.

Radicalization traditionally occurs among or between people with close relations, such as parents and children, or teachers and students. However, Maulana Syahid, head of the international law sub-directorate in the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), said that the development of technology and cyberspace has changed this.

"Groups like [Islamic State] are very good at utilizing cyberspace. People without relations in day to day life are now exposed to the dangers of being radicalized," Maulana said, adding that both online and offline activities often influence each other in the radicalization process.

Chairwoman of the International Migrant Alliance (IMA), Eni Lestari, said radical groups have used social media to exploit vulnerable migrant workers.

"Many migrant workers express their struggles and hardships through social media … and this becomes a tool [for extremist groups] to exploit them easily, by tapping into their vulnerabilities," Eni said.

Established in 2008, IMA is a global alliance of organizations made up of grassroots migrants, refugees and displaced persons with 120 member organizations from more than 30 countries.

More Freedom, Higher Threat

The alarming trend of radicalization among Indonesian migrant workers in Hong Kong can also be traced to the freedom of expression enjoyed by Hong Kong residents, as opposed to their counterparts in Saudi Arabia or Malaysia; countries where many Indonesian migrant workers are also employed.

"Migrant workers in Saudi Arabia or other countries in the Middle East do not have the same freedom as migrant workers in Hong Kong," Maulana said.

Easier access to information in Hong Kong means that radical content is also more likely to reach a willing audience.

According to Solahudin, migrant workers in Hong Kong are targeted by extremist groups for fundraising purposes.

"Migrant workers in Hong Kong are the target of several groups, especially those affiliated with Islamic State. Their earnings are relatively higher than migrant workers in other countries, and some of them are active donors to extremist groups," Solahudin said.