Vietnamese workers' life-changing dreams turned to ashes by fatal factory fire in Taiwan

By Hoang Tao-Duc Hung    December 15, 2017 | 04:15 am PT
The six men who died in the blaze were working to help their poverty-stricken families find a better life.

In the bitter cold of winter, Phung Van Tan sits blankly in a corner of his ramshackle wooden house in a rural part of Ha Tinh Province in Vietnam’s north-central region.

He has been receiving phone calls all day from people offering their condolences over the death of his son, Phung Trong Tuan, who died on Thursday in a blaze at a factory in Taiwan where he was working.

Taiwan’s Sican Co. Ltd. manufactured automotive window films, ceramic paint protection films and nano-ceramic carbon films at the factory, according to a Taiwan News report on Thursday. Taiwanese firefighters said 11 Vietnamese workers were on site at the time the fire broke out on the second floor of the factory. Five of them were rescued and taken to hospital. It took firefighters four hours to bring the fire under control, and police are investigating the case, Central News Agency reported.

Tuan was one of six Vietnamese migrant workers who were killed in the fire, which broke out at around 2 a.m. at a factory belonging to Sican Co. Ltd. in northwestern Taiwan.

Most of them left Vietnam last year to seek opportunities to help themselves and their families escape from poverty.

Holding a photo of Tuan that will be placed on the family altar, his mother Nguyen Thi Huong said Tuan was the eldest of three siblings.

Three years ago, her family borrowed VND180 million ($8,000) so that the youngest member of the family, 22-year-old Huyen, could apply for an export labor program to work in Taiwan.

Huyen earned enough from working in Taiwan to pay off her family’s debt, so she encouraged her brother Tuan and his wife to follow her example.

In late 2016, Tuan took out a VND140-million bank loan to work at a solar window film factory in Taoyuan's Luzhu District. He saved VND10 million each month.

After a year apart, his wife landed in Taiwan just four days ago to work in a hospital. Her trip cost the same as Tuan’s.

“My daughter-in-law asked my wife and I to look after the kids," Tan, the father, said. "She was there for only two days before she received the heartbreaking news about her husband. It’s so painful because they did not even get the chance to meet each other again.” 


Phung Van Tan and his two grandchildren, the sons of Phung Trong Tuan, who died in a factory fire in Taiwan on Thursday. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung

At the age of 31, Tuan has gone, leaving his wife and two sons behind.

Tan said sometimes his son called home, sharing stories about his difficult life and job in Taiwan.

He always tried to offer encouragement to his son, telling him: “Keep trying hard for a better future. Save a decent amount of money and then return to Vietnam, fix the house and make sure that the kids don't have to drop out of school.”

But the dream Tan painted for his son, his wife and grandchildren has now gone.

“We haven't paid off the debt for Tuan’s trip to Taiwan, much less the new loan we took out for his wife,” the old man said.

Tuan’s wife and sister are still waiting for DNA tests in Taiwan so they can repatriate his body.

Before he left, Tuan had taken out insurance and his family hope the Taiwanese firm will compensate them properly for his death.

Just 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Tuan’s home, Tran Hong Thao is trying to get a passport and borrow money so that he can travel to Taiwan and bring home the body of his son, Tran Hong Thuy, 24, a colleague of Tuan.

His wife has totally collapsed.

Thuy was the middle child in a family of three children. His father has retired and the family’s income depends on a small paddy field and grocery store.

Poverty forced Thuy to quit secondary school and join the military, where he did not have to worry about paying for food.

Returning from military service, Thuy decided to travel to Taiwan to work so that he could save money to “build a house and get married one day.”

Thao and his wife pooled all the money they had and borrowed more from the banks to raise the VND160 million their son needed to follow his dream.

On Wednesday night, Thuy called home and had a long chat with his parents until 11 p.m.

“We still can't believe that was the last time we heard his voice,” his mother said in tears.

His brother said that Thuy had asked him to send a warm jacket just a few days ago, “but now it is for no one.”

The painful story runs down the road to Quang Binh Province, where relatives and neighbors have been gathering at a small house in Bo Trach District to mourn with the family of Nguyen Trong Nghia.

In the middle of the house lies a new altar with incense burning and a photo of the 21-year-old.


Nguyen Van Hoang mourns the death of his 21-year-old son Nguyen Trong Nghia. Photo by VnExpress/Nh.Th

Nghia's father, Nguyen Van Hoang, keeps calling out his son’s name.

“We had received VND10 million from him in the morning and then received news of his death that night,” he said.

As the middle child in a family of five kids, Nghia quit high school and went to work in Taiwan several years ago.

He earned VND10-12 million per month, lived a difficult life, and saved as much money as he could to send home to support his parents.

Tuyet, his mother, said Nghia told her a few days ago that he would not be coming home this Lunar New Year, Vietnam's most important festival and a time for family reunions.

“He wanted to scrimp on travel costs and work to earn more. His plan was to work for a few more years in Taiwan to help his younger siblings finish high school and go to college,” she said.

Nghia’s older sister said the entire family has been relying on his income for years and now that he has gone, things will be much more difficult.

The other victims were also from Ha Tinh and Quang Binh.

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