Taiwan immigration brigade launches hunt for 152 missing Vietnamese tourists

Special Taiwan National Immigration Agency unit searches for 152 Vietnamese missing from tour groups in Kaohsiung

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Kaohsiung International Airport Customs counter.

Kaohsiung International Airport Customs counter. (By Wikimedia Commons)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- After news broke yesterday that 152 Vietnamese tourists had gone missing from their tour groups, Taiwan's National Immigration Agency (NIA) has launched a manhunt to track them down, reported UDN.

NIA's specialized operations brigade has begun a search for 152 missing Vietnamese tourists after it was discovered that they had gone missing from the four tour groups they had originally arrived to Taiwan with. This is the largest one-time disappearance of tourists from a tour group since the Project for Simplifying Visa Regulations for High-end Group Tourists (觀宏專案) began in 2015, and it is believed by authorities to be a case of human trafficking.

The agency which managed the tour groups, ETholiday (東森旅遊), said it had received four groups totaling 153 Vietnamese travelers from Dec. 21 to Dec. 23. As of yesterday, 152 had disappeared from the groups, leaving ony one tour guide accounted for.

The Tourism Bureau said the situation was "serious" and had informed the Consular Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has canceled the visas of the 152 missing tourists and voided the applications of 182 other Vietnamese tourists who had been slated to visit under the group tourist visa program.

The NIA has pointed out that its specialized operations brigade in Kaohsiung has set up a team to coordinate with local police to track down the missing tourists. After the Vietnamese tourists are apprehended, they will be deported and will not be allowed to return to Taiwan for an extended period of time.

As soon as the four groups arrived at the Kaohsiung International Airport, they were picked up by persons not tied with the tour group, according to ETholiday. The tour agency added that the tour group leader was unable to stop them from leaving, did not know in advance that the tourists were planning to flee their groups, and immediately informed the Tourism Bureau.

A field agent at the NIA pointed out that the escape of a group of 152 tourists en masse from their tour groups must have been preplanned in their home country. Based on past experience, the NIA agent said the male tourists will likely illegally work in Taiwanese factories, while the women will probably engage in prostitution.

Since the launch of the special visa program, which included simplified visa procedures if at least five people traveled together, an estimated total of 150 visitors disappeared, but this time, 152 travelers from Vietnam went missing in one go, according to CNA. Under the program, the participating visitors did not need to supply evidence of their financial situation, according to the report.