Many migrant workers find solace in extremist groups, as they give them a sense of belonging. (Antara Photo/Irwansyah Putra)

NU Can Prevent Radicalization of Indonesian Migrant Workers, Experts Say


DECEMBER 19, 2017

Jakarta. The International Migrant Alliance, or IMA, says Muslim organizations such as the Nahdlatul Ulama can play a crucial role in preventing radicalization of Indonesian migrant workers.

The alliance also stressed that radicalized persons should be treated as victims.

Speaking at a public discussion in Jakarta on Tuesday (19/12), IMA chairwoman Eni Lestari said that groups such as NU, Indonesia's largest Muslim organization, are important in the process, as many migrant workers are affiliated with it.

"Many migrant workers look for 'the pure Islam' and want to connect with religious experts in their pursuit," Eni said, adding that NU can offer a better understanding of Indonesian Islam, which in cultural terms is different than in other countries.

The University of Indonesia's Terrorism and Social Conflict Studies Center researcher Solahudin said that deradicalization programs are crucial to preventing people from being recruited by extremist groups, and should be launched in the provinces of East Java and Central Java, from which most of Indonesian migrant workers originate.

He said groups like NU should use online tools to spread theirs teachings and reach abroad.

"They need to utilize various online platforms and flood social media with antiradical narratives," Solahudin said.

While pre-departure programs can prove useful to guide workers departing to foreign countries, Eni said that guidance during their employment period abroad also matters.

In the search for a community life in an unfamiliar environment, migrant workers may turn to foreign preachers. Studies in Hong Kong have shown that many were disappointed with Indonesian ustads, who cost them dearly.

"Indonesian ustads come to Hong Kong just for money, and they [migrant workers] are critical about it, because they felt like they weren't taught about the religion, so they started to look for it elsewhere," Eni said, adding that more effort is also needed from the government.

"The government needs to step up efforts for migrant workers in their countries of employment … because many of them are still susceptible to new things and not prepared to take care of themselves abroad," she said, adding that the Ministry of Women's Empowerment and Child Protection does not offer much support.

Women Are Prone to Becoming Victims 

Many female migrant workers struggle with loneliness and hardships of living abroad, sometimes they have to deal with ill-tempered employers and are often frustrated with substandard living conditions. Some of them find solace in extremist groups, as they give them a sense of belonging.

According to Solahudin more case-by-case research is needed to understand this phenomenon.

"It is important for institutions such as the BNPT [National Counterterrorism Agency] to know the root causes of how migrant workers get radicalized, why they want to sacrifice their lives for the sake of terrorism," he said.

In July, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) published a report estimating that 45 Indonesian female migrant workers in Hong Kong actively support the Islamic State.

More than 150,000 Indonesian migrant workers live in Hong Kong, 95 percent of them are women.

Eni said there is also a need to prevent stigmatization of radicalized migrant workers by educating members of the public on the issue, as there are more complex psychological factors that make people join extremist groups.

"The government needs to learn from the victims as much as possible, and I hope they will not be treated like criminals, because I am certain they are victims," she said.