Foreign tourists stroll down a street in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Many foreign expats concurred that although the city is relatively safe for foreigners, a more effective crime hotline is necessary for emergency situations, one which would elicit swift police action.
An Indian expat was happily shooting pictures of “mobile nurseries,” vendors selling plants on bicycles when his expensive camera was snatched by a young man on a motorbike.
The theft happened last August in broad daylight on Cong Hoa Street opposite the Maximark supermarket in Tan Binh District, but there was “nothing I could do.”
“I went to the local police station but it was closed. When I was robbed, other people around, including lottery ticket sellers and the local xe om (motorbike taxi) drivers were smiling. It was as though they knew who the robber was, and that this was not an uncommon occurrence there,” he said.
The Indian, who requested anonymity, said he did not know he could have called a hotline for help.
Senior lieutenant colonel Tran Van Ngoc, vice chief investigator of the HCMC Police Department, said a hotline staffed with English speakers for foreigners to report crimes (08 3 838 7200) was launched several years ago. However, the number is not widely known and few crimes have been reported.
He said many foreigners are reluctant to report crimes to the police and when they do, they tend to notify only the local police, as they are unaware of his department’s hotline.
“We have more than 200 policemen spread throughout the city’s districts and we are committed to taking effective action against criminals once unlawful activity is reported,” he said, adding that in recent years, his agency has successively resolved a high percentage of reported crimes.
Meanwhile, many of the city’s expats said more should be done to promote the hotline to their community and foreign travelers.
“I am not aware that a hotline had been established, but I am aware of the fact that many foreigners have called for extra measures to be taken in order to counteract a specific pattern of incidents happening to them,” said Frederikke Lindholm, a Danish expat who has been in Vietnam for four years.
Lindholm also said she does not think that there are any major problems that foreigners face here that are exclusive to Vietnam.
Tim Russell, a British expat who has been in Vietnam for nine years, said there were easy steps that could be taken to better publicize the hotline. “The hotline number could be given on a leaflet to tourists when they go through immigration at airports and land borders. But it would have to be effective - staffed by people who speak good English, and the police would have to respond to complaints quickly,” he said.
However, Russell also said he does not think there are major security problems for foreigners in Vietnam.
“I’ve been here for 9 years and it is a lot safer than my hometown in the UK. The only problem I’ve had is maids/nannies stealing private property. Burglary, street crime, violence, etc. are all very rare here as far as expats are concerned, and I hope it stays that way,” he said.
Tom Hricko, an American photographer who has been in Vietnam for seven years, advised authorities to print the number regularly in English speaking magazines and newspapers, on signs in areas frequented by foreigners and perhaps even on the side of buses.
“As far as the security of foreigners is concerned, I have never had a problem here. For a city of this size, HCMC is remarkably safe,” he said.
Meanwhile, he said many Vietnamese really do not seem to have much respect for the police and have told him they would never call the police if they had a problem.
“This is a strange situation to many foreigners who have the tradition of the police as ‘helpers’. I certainly never got any satisfaction when I complained to the police in my former neighborhood about noise at 3:00 a.m. from a disco,” he said.
Although expats agree on the necessity of a better publicized crime hotline, many said HCMC is relatively safe for foreigners and that crime of this sort happens in every city in the world.
“Most of the problems I hear about happen to tourists rather than expats,” Hricko said.
He warned against some Filipino scammers who hang around waiting to snare an unsuspecting foreigner and lure them into dishonest card games before extorting their money.
An American expat, who wished to be unnamed, said most local residents go out of their way to warn foreigners about the dangers of theft, scams and other “social evils” and seem to be exceedingly embarrassed when they hear of foreigners being victimized by crime.
“It’s a bizarre expectation many foreigners project onto Vietnam, that its major cities be the only ones on earth devoid of dishonest taxi drivers and petty thieves; and that their police force also be uniquely equipped to recover every last stolen camera and cell phone,” he said.
DA NANG LAUNCHES HOTLINES TO ASSIST FOREIGNERS
Authorities in the central city of Da Nang have launched several hotlines for foreigners to report on crime, including cell phone numbers of officials in the Police Department and Department of Foreign Affairs.
The hotlines include Le Thi Thu Hanh – deputy director of the Department of Foreign Affairs 090 511 3038; and Nguyen Thi Phuong Nga, deputy head of the department’s Consular and Viet Kieu Desk 0166 959 7120.
Hotlines for the police department’s immigration service include Dang Trung Thinh at 090 547 5762 and 0511 3 743 791; and Ho Thi Thanh Ha at 090 501 0586 and 0511 3 743 791.
Foreigners can also report crimes and other complaints in person to the Da Nang Immigration Office at 78 Le Loi Street in Hai Chau District or call 0511 3 860 247.
All phone numbers will be able to receive information either in English or Vietnamese.
The city has also launched a Vietnamese only hotline receiving information about crime at 0511 3 888 888.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the increase in the number of foreigners visiting the city has also led to increasing thefts and robberies involving them.