NIA searching for 128 unaccounted for Vietnamese tourists

As of 4 p.m. Saturday, 20 of the missing tourists, who arrived in Taiwan in four groups on Dec. 21 and Dec. 23, had been found and authorities were looking into what happened to them. (NOwnews)

TAIPEI (CNA) — The National Immigration Agency (NIA) said on Dec. 29 that 128 out of 148 Vietnamese tourists who disappeared after entering Taiwan last week remain unaccounted for, and it believes that crime syndicates are involved in the case.

As of 4 p.m. Saturday, 20 of the missing tourists, who arrived in Taiwan in four groups on Dec. 21 and Dec. 23, had been found and authorities were looking into what happened to them, the NIA said.

Among them, seven were male and 13 were female, the NIA said, while 91 male and 37 female Vietnamese nationals remained unaccounted for.

Crime syndicates were likely behind the mass disappearance of the Vietnamese nationals because those who have been located said they had been assisted to meet “contacts” in southern, central and northern Taiwan, according to the NIA after a meeting between its head Chiu Feng-kuang (邱豐光) and an operation brigade in southern Taiwan.

Chiu, who assumed office the previous day, is scheduled to go to southern Taiwan on Jan. 1 to supervise the search for the missing Vietnamese.

The NIA urged Taiwanese employers not to hire illegal immigrants or face a possible fine ranging between NT$150,000 (US$4,900) and NT$750,000 for violating the Employment Service Act.

The agency also called on the remaining Vietnamese who left their tour groups to turn themselves in to the police, while pledging to protect their basic human rights.

Though the Vietnamese entered Taiwan via Tainan, Kaohsiung and Taoyuan, they were all taken to Kaohsiung at one point, and then some of them were brought to Nantou in central Taiwan and New Taipei in northern Taiwan, officials said.

Preliminary findings of an investigation into the case found that each Vietnamese individual paid a travel fee of US$800-US$1,200 to come to Taiwan and look for jobs on their own.

The Vietnamese were visiting Taiwan under a government-initiated program launched in November 2015 that now allows convenient visa applications for groups of five tourists or more from Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and India under certain circumstances.

Group tourists are eligible to make such an application as long as they are organized by “quality travel agencies” recognized by Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau or company-sponsored groups.

By Liu Chien-pang and Lee Hsin-Yin