The government yesterday pledged to make every effort to evacuate Taiwanese still stranded in disaster-hit areas in Japan following complaints that it had done little to help compatriots leaving the stricken country.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Su Chen-ching (蘇震清) said a constituent in Pingtung asked him to help her daughter in Fukushima Prefecture, after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) rejected her request.
“Her daughter has been stuck in Fukushima all this time. The mother was so worried about her and helpless as the ministry told her that her daughter would have to get out of Fukushima on her own,” Su told Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) during a question-and-answer session on the legislative floor yesterday.
In response, Wu said “there were things that the government was powerless to help with despite being sympathetic to the situation people found themselves in.”
Accusing the government of being too passive in its handling of the matter, Su said that it stood in sharp contrast to other countries which have demonstrated how much they care about the safety of their citizens by arranging charter flights for them out of Japan.
According to the ministry, approximately 600 Taiwanese in the main disaster areas of northeast Japan remain unaccounted for.
Separately, a Taiwanese named Cheng Yu-jung (鄭郁蓉) told a press conference held by DPP Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) yesterday that the government had offered little help to Taiwanese in Japan.
Cheng said her four-member family wanted to return to Taiwan from Sendai after the earthquake, but they found it impossible to leave and no MOFA representative in Japan had contacted them.
Cheng said she later learned from a local Chinese student association that there might be tickets from Yamagata Airport in Yamagata prefecture to Tokyo, and was very lucky to be able to book tickets online and have enough gas left in her car to drive two hours to the airport.
“It is a very long way to Tokyo. Why are Taiwanese compatriots inferior to Chinese or Libyans [whose governments have helped their nationals to evacuate from the disaster areas]?” she said.
Cheng said that the ministry should have sent vehicles to pick up Taiwanese stuck in the disaster areas and chartered planes to fly them back to Taiwan. It should also release a list of all Taiwanese in Japan online, to help those still looking for loved ones and friends, she added.
Addressing these complaints, Minister of Foreign Affairs Timothy Yang (楊進添) said at a separate setting yesterday that the ministry’s staffers in Japan had encountered transportation difficulties in areas severely hit by the earthquake and tsunami.
“But we will try every means possible to help [stranded -Taiwanese]. Where staffers have been able to reach stranded Taiwanese, they have asked Taiwanese associations nearby to offer assistance,” Yang said.
He reiterated that Taiwanese nationals in need of help should contact the ministry’s offices in Japan.
The government did not provide charter flights to fly Taiwanese out of Japan as some other countries did because the number of daily flights between Taipei and Japan is sufficient to meet demand, Yang said.
“There are a total of 17 flights daily, and none of those flights was fully booked in recent days, with about 20 percent of seats unsold on each flight,” Yang said.
The regular flights provided by EVA Airways, China Airlines (CAL), All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines can carry a maximum of 10,000 passengers from Japan to Taiwan daily, the ministry said. There are about 1,900 seats unsold per day, it added.
People had difficulty booking return tickets to Taiwan because of overbooking, it said.
Following a late-night meeting on Thursday, MOFA, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, CAL and EVA agreed that the two carriers would each add a flight from Tokyo to yesterday’s schedule.
“It is better to prepare and prevent than to repair and repent,” Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) Director-General Ying Chen-pong (尹承蓬) said.
To assist standby passengers who do not have reservations upon arriving at the airport, both airlines said they had set up on-site help centers.
All round-trip tickets are being offered for between ￥$30,000 (US$368) and ￥33,000, depending on the point of departure and destination.
However, the airlines were not offering any one-way tickets back to Taiwan for evacuees. Those who bought round-trip tickets will have up to one year to use the return flight to Japan.
Despite the government’s advisory for elderly, young and female Taiwanese to leave Japan earlier this week, the CAA said there has been no significant surge in flight bookings. By yesterday afternoon, the average booking rate was 85.4 percent for all flights out of Japan.
The CAA said the status of all Tokyo-Taipei and Tokyo-Kaohsiung flights were made available on its Web site starting yesterday.
The service will help the public better plan their trips and reduce unnecessary panic over flight shortages, Yin said.
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