Ministry addresses concern over passports

Staff writer, with CNA

Fri, Mar 14, 2014 - Page 5

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday sought to reassure lawmakers over the number of Taiwanese passports lost in recent years, as questions arose over the connection between passport theft and the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

Taiwan recorded more than 20,000 lost passports last year, said Kung Chung-chen (龔中誠), director-general of the ministry’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Last year’s number was largely consistent with the figures for every year since 2008, although the bureau said the ratio of lost passports had fallen from 2.76 percent of those issued in 2008 to 1.51 percent of those issued last year as the number of new passports grew each year.

Kung attributed the relative drop in lost passports to the introduction of biometric technology in the documents, which makes it harder an unauthorized person to use.

Kung’s remarks came in response to questions from the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee about lost and stolen passports, following the revelation that two passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight were traveling on stolen passports.

“We’ll continue to urge nationals to try to take good care of their passports,” he said.

Taiwanese passports could be attractive on the black market owing to the visa-free treatment or landing visas extended to Taiwanese nationals by 135 countries and territories.

The real-time notification system by which police can notify the bureau to invalidate a passport as soon as they receive a report about a lost or stolen passport has enhanced the passport’s credibility, the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday night.

The ministry has proposed an amendment to the Passport Statute (護照條例) to increase penalties and fines for people found involved in forging passports or identification documents used to apply for visas. The amendment is awaiting approval by the legislature.

Additional Reporting by Shih Hsiu-chuan