Taiwan finds 12 of 152 ‘lost’ tourists, Vietnam investigates

By Nguyen Quy   December 27, 2018 | 02:26 pm GMT+7
Taiwan finds 12 of 152 ‘lost’ tourists, Vietnam investigates
Tourists gather at the entrance to the famous Raohe street night market in Taiwan's Taipei City. Photo by Shutterstocks/letran
Vietnamese authorities are investigating the disappearance of 152 Vietnamese tourists in Taiwan, 15 of whom have been tracked down.

Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency (NIA) says that it has found six Vietnamese tourists.

Six other tourists have showed up themselves and three others have flown back to Vietnam, leaving 137 still unaccounted for.

The Vietnamese tourists are being held to face investigation for violating the Human Trafficking Prevention Act, the Immigration Law, and the Employment Services Act, the NIA said.

Vietnam’s tourism ministry has ordered the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) to work with the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau and police officials to clarify the incident.

The HCMC Department of Tourism has been requested to inspect and report on the operations of HCMC-based International Holidays Trading Travel Company, which was responsible for completing the visa applications of the missing tourists.

"This is a serious incident which could tarnish the reputation of Vietnam in the eyes of international friends," said Nguyen Ngoc Thien, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

On Tuesday, the NIA said that of all but one of 153 Vietnamese tourists who arrived in the south-western city of Kaohsiung on December 21 and 23 in four groups had strayed and gone missing. The one remaining was a 17-year-old boy.

The news of 102 men and 50 women going missing was an unprecedented incident that shocked the public and authorities in Taiwan and Vietnam.

Taiwanese travel agency ETholiday was responsible for receiving the tourists.

The missing tourists applied for electronic visas under a program launched in 2015, which requires no visa fees for travelers from Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and India.

The program, a part of Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy to establish closer ties with selected nations, also allows simplified visa procedures for groups of five tourists or more from the aforementioned six countries, as long as they are organized by "quality travel agencies" recognized by the Tourism Bureau or if they are part of company-sponsored groups.

Serious consequences

Following the incident, Taiwanese authorities on Tuesday mobilized all sources to search for the missing Vietnamese tourists. If caught, they will be deported back to Vietnam and banned from returning to Taiwan, it was reported, with no specific duration mentioned for the ban.

The Tourism Bureau asked Taiwan's foreign ministry to suspend future visa applications from the Vietnamese agency responsible for the missing tourists.

In response, the foreign ministry has not only canceled the visas of the 152 missing tourists, but also that of 182 other Vietnamese applications submitted under the same program.

A representative from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in HCMC said the issuance of visas for Vietnamese tourists remained unchanged; however, Taiwanese authorities will impose stringent controls on foreign tourists upon arrival in the territory.

The Taipei Times newspaper reported Thursday that the local government "is considering the special visa program" and will randomly select applications for additional inspection following the disappearance of the 152 Vietnamese tourists.

Notorious reputation

Vietnam has gained notoriety for many cases of missing tourists after arriving in Taiwan under the special visa waiver program.

Official statistics from Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau showed that a total of 225,702 foreign tourists touched down in Taiwan under the visa program since 2015.

Of them, 566 people have gone missing to work illegally in the territory, with Vietnamese accounting for 72 percent of the total, the Focus Taiwan newspaper reported Wednesday.

As a result of the sharp increase in the number of unaccounted Vietnamese tourists, the Taiwanese authority has shortened the length of visas issued to Vietnamese from 30 to 14 days.

In recent years, Taiwan has emerged as a promising destination for Vietnamese workers looking for jobs overseas. As of 2017, there were around 164,000 Vietnamese working under official contracts in Taiwan, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the country’s overseas workforce, according to official statistics.

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