TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Three of the 152 Vietnamese tourists who went missing late last week were arrested by authorities yesterday, while four others have been accounted for, leaving 145 yet to be found, according to the National Immigration Agency (NIA).
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“Kuan Hung Pilot Project”(觀宏專案) began in 2015, and it is believed by authorities to be a case of human trafficking.
The project simplified the process of issuing visas for quality groups from countries targeted by the New Southbound Policy, including India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. In this case, 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, but by Sunday (Dec. 23), 152 had disappeared from the groups, leaving ony one tour guide accounted for at the time.
Suspect arrested in Changhua County. (Photo from NIA)
On Dec. 25, the NIA announced that its specialized operations brigade in Kaohsiung had set up a team to coordinate with local police to track down the missing tourists. In order to prevent the rogue tourists from engaging in illegal activities, the NIA made every effort to mobilize four field brigades under its jurisdiction to carry out the manhunt by means of tracing cars, expanding the search radius, and investigating suspicious premises.
Since the search began, one tourist was found to actually not have left their tour group, while three others have already returned to Vietnam. NIA agents have also managed to track down three of the tourists who snuck away from their hotels and arrested them in Chiayi County, Changhua County, and Hsinchu County yesterday (Dec. 26), leaving 145 still at large.
The three Vietnamese tourists who were arrested have been sent to the Kaohsiung Prosecutor's Office on charges of violating the Human Trafficking Prevention Act (人口販運防制法).
Suspect arrested in Changhua. (NIA photo)
The NIA's secretary has also notified the Vietnam Immigration Department (VID) of the case and is working closely with the department on combating this illegal act in both countries. The VID is closely monitoring the situation and has launched its own investigation.
The Kuan Hung Pilot Project, which is promoted by the Tourism Bureau, only applies to tourists who apply to travel in tour groups with authorized Taiwanese travel agencies. In the wake of the mass exodus of over one hundred Vietnamese tourists from their tour groups, the Ministry of the Interior, the Tourism Bureau, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will conduct a comprehensive review of the supporting measures of the project in order to ensure its effectiveness.
Suspect arrested in Hsinchu County. (NIA photo)