Vietnam officials flummoxed by Russian beggar on popular tourist island

By Vi Vu   August 9, 2017 | 08:35 pm PT
Vietnam officials flummoxed by Russian beggar on popular tourist island
A Facebook photo shows a Russian woman sitting on a sidewalk in Phu Quoc with a pot to receive money.
The island authorities want more power to deal with foreigners who beg, disrupt public order, cause traffic accidents and street fights. 

Officials in Vietnam's southern island resort of Phu Quoc are consulting provincial police and foreign affairs officials on how to deal with a Russian woman who has been begging on the street in recent days, an act deemed illegal under Vietnamese law.

The 20-year-old woman appeared in a photo which has gone viral on Facebook this week, showing her in meditation posture next to a pot and a sign that says she needs money.

Phu Quoc officials said they have found a place for her to stay temporarily, but they do not know what to do with her next.

She said she has been begging her way through Cambodia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, spending the nights in parks or jungles and begging for money during the days to pay for food and other goods.

Tran Chi Dung, director of Kien Giang Province’s tourism department, told Tuoi Tre newspaper that foreigners begging in Vietnam is nothing new, and many have been seen asking for money by performing in the street.

“Compared to local beggars, the foreigners seem to be very polite, but according to the law this is not allowed,” he said.

Pham Van Nghiep, vice chairman of the island, said the Russian woman has also violated rules by not registering a place to stay.

He said the police will look into her papers and if her stay on the island has expired, they will send her home. The island does not have a social welfare center.

Foreigners can stay on Phu Quoc for 30 days without a visa, a policy launched several years ago to boost tourism on the country’s biggest island.

Western beggars have stirred debate in Vietnam and other Asian countries over whether they deserve special support or if they are just taking advantage of their hosts to blag a free vacation.

In March, the infamous German beggar Benjamin Holst was back in Saigon, with locals sharing photos of him paddling for money on the street while he was publishing posts from beer shops and fancy restaurants.

The city was reportedly lenient with him, but he did find himself in serious trouble with authorities in other Southeast Asian countries. In September 2014, he was deported and banned from returning to Thailand after officials found he had spent more than $1,400 that locals had given him at a party in Pattaya.

Nghiep from Phu Quoc said he has asked Kien Giang Province to grant the island more power to deal with foreigners because many of them have been involved in various problems other than begging, such as disrupting public order, traffic accidents and street fights.

He said the district wants to take matters into its own hands instead of waiting for the province to intervene.

Phu Quoc expects to receive more than 300,000 foreign visitors this year, up nearly 43 percent from last year. Its tourism revenue is also projected to go up 25 percent to VND11.15 trillion ($490.6 million), Vietnam News Agency cited local officials as saying.

Investments worth VND160 trillion ($7 billion) have been poured into the island’s tourism industry, including a casino and a cable car project. A 500-hectare (1,236-acre) safari was opened in December 2015, and hotels are being built to prepare for up to three million visitors a year by 2020.

The island is also trying to attract foreign investment to develop a special economic zone.

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