ISA detentions

Workers not sure how to spot radicals; community leaders to raise awareness

Bangladeshi construction worker Yousuf (centre) with his countrymen yesterday in Tuas View Dormitory. The Home Affairs Ministry says efforts to reach out to and engage the foreign worker population here are ongoing.
Bangladeshi construction worker Yousuf (centre) with his countrymen yesterday in Tuas View Dormitory. The Home Affairs Ministry says efforts to reach out to and engage the foreign worker population here are ongoing.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Their High Commissioner has asked them to sound the alert if they suspect extremists are in their midst. But do not expect many Bangladeshi workers to do that just yet.

Some claimed they would not know how to spot a radical. Others candidly admitted they would be uncomfortable getting their compatriots into trouble, and feared they would be implicated themselves.

But community leaders said they will try to raise awareness of the importance of vigilance, as the discovery of a second group of radicalised Bangladeshis in the space of six months threatens to tarnish the image of their countrymen.

"We will work harder to talk to them. It is important we fight this as a community," said Mr Mohd Shahiduzzaman, president of the Singapore Bangladesh Society.

After news broke on Tuesday that eight members of the group Islamic State in Bangladesh had been detained under the Internal Security Act, Bangladesh High Commissioner to Singapore Mahbub Uz Zaman said his countrymen have a duty to report radical behaviour.

Five other Bangladeshis were deported, and possessed or had spread radical material.

COMMUNITY EFFORT

We will work harder to talk to them. It is important we fight this as a community.

MR MOHD SHAHIDUZZAMAN, president of the Singapore Bangladesh Society, on reaching out to the Bangladeshis here.

Sentiments like that of construction worker Shahidul Islam, 30, were common. "I don't want my friends to get into trouble," he said.

Said his colleague Sabir Ahmed, 30: "I am not sure if they are extremists or just very religious. If I do not feel comfortable, I will move away."

Like most of the 30 workers The Straits Times spoke to yesterday, Mr Sabir said his boss had already warned them not to get tangled up with radicalism after it was reported in January that 27 Bangladeshi workers were deported for radical activity. Many feel their companies and dormitories are already keeping a lookout for radical behaviour.

The Ministry of Home Affairs said yesterday that dormitory operators had been advised to engage foreign workers living in their quarters after last year's arrests of the 27 men.

"Efforts to reach out to and engage the foreign worker population in Singapore are ongoing," it said.

That message appears to have sunk in. Said shipyard worker Tepu Sultan, 23: "My manager said that we come here to work and earn money, so why would we want to join terrorists? Better to just work."

Added construction worker Yousuf, 30: "Sometimes, I work night shifts and my friends work in the day. It is hard for me to tell if they pray differently from me."

But an approachable boss helps. Said shipyard worker Alauddin, 33: "My boss is good, he warns us often about causing trouble. Of course, I will tell boss if something is fishy."

Migrant Workers' Centre chairman Yeo Guat Kwang said the centre will engage and advise workers "to be vigilant against threats to our peace and security".

"(Bosses should also) orientate all new workers on the value we place on our peace and security, and the importance of social cohesion," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2016, with the headline 'Workers not sure how to spot radicals; community leaders to raise awareness'. Print Edition | Subscribe