Fri, Aug 03, 2007 - Page 4 News List

NIA laments detainee escapes

PRISON BREAK The National Immigration Agency said watchmen at a detention center had been slack, but the escape of Vietnamese escapees was `just like a movie'

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

A recent string of escapes involving six illegal immigrants, one of whom is wanted for drug-trafficking, from an Ilan County detention center has "angered" the National Immigration Agency by exposing poor surveillance at the center, which the agency oversees, agency deputy director Steve Wu (吳學燕) said yesterday.

A daring escape by five Vietnamese illegals from the detention center on Wednesday followed an escape last week -- from the same center -- by a Chinese illegal wanted for dealing drugs, Wu said. The Chinese escapee, he said, simply walked out the front door on a bathroom break while the five Vietnamese climbed up through an air-conditioning duct leading to the roof, from where they fled the center early on Wednesday morning.

Police collared two of the Vietnamese escapees yesterday in San-sia Township (三峽), Taipei County, Wu said, adding that the search for the other escapees continues.

"We're doing everything in our power to make sure that this doesn't happen again," he said. "It's terrible."

An agency press release yesterday said detention center officials first noticed that five Vietnamese detainees were absent during an early morning roll call on Wednesday, and eventually notified the agency, setting off a nationwide search.

A review of security-camera footage showed the detainees standing on one another's shoulders in the dead of night, forming a human chain that extended up to a duct, the release said.

"The Vietnamese are really smart -- they were very organized," Wu said. "Just like a movie."

Although far less cunning, the Chinese escapee matched Wednesday's "prison break" in boldness, calmly walking out the front door in the middle of the day on July 24, after asking to use the bathroom. The illegal immigrant, a Chinese woman who entered the country illegally to sell drugs, is still at large, Wu said.

The Vietnamese escapees "aren't dangerous," he added.

"They [the Vietnamese illegal immigrants] are laborers who [illegally] left their employer," he said.

Asked how the illegal immigrants could have bypassed security at the detention center, Wu said: "We're neglecting to watch the prisoners."

"We're very angry at the watchmen. There is CCTV in the center, but the watchman on Wednesday wasn't monitoring it," he said.

A "manpower shortage" and poor equipment were also to blame, Wu said, adding that the agency would add steel bars to windows, openings on the roof and ducts, and increase the number of personnel at the center.

Established last January, the agency has had a mixed performance record in its first six months of operations. While suffering two major corruption cases involving agency officers suspected of colluding with human traffickers and turf wars with the National Police Agency, the immigration agency has also repatriated a record number of Chinese illegal immigrants and enhanced cooperation with Chinese immigration authorities.

Citing progress in its handling of trafficked victims and human smuggling, the US government last month removed Taiwan from a watch list for countries that fail to adequately address their human-trafficking problems.

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