At least 400 inmates in a drug rehabilitation center in the northern port city of Hai Phong struck down its gates and escaped Sunday. Around one third of them were still at large.
Tran Quang Thang, a senior local official of Gia Minh Commune in Hai Phong’s Thuy Nguyen District, where the Gia Minh Center is based, said “over 400 inmates” broke through the center’s gates at around 4 p.m.
But news site Mot The Gioi (motthegioi.vn) quoted Nguyen Tran Lanh, mayor of Thuy Nguyen District, as saying that nearly 500 inmates had escaped.
Those conflicting figures cannot be immediately reconciled.
There have been no reports of clashes between the inmates and the center’s security guards as well as police deployed to maintain order on the streets.
Several inmates vandalized people’s houses along their way to Hai Phong City. Household businesses were asked to shut down for the sake of their safety.
At around 6:30 p.m., several inmates returned to the center. Many others were brought homes by their family members. Some 100 of them continued heading for Hai Phong, news website VnExpress (vnexpress.net) reported.
Nguyen Huy Hoang, vice mayor of Thuy Nguyen District, told Mot The Gioi that those inmates had hatched a plan to escape on Saturday in a bid to “pressure [the authorities] for better policy”. Hoang said he could not confirm immediately how many inmates the center is housing.
Authorities concerned said they would enlist support from the relatives of the inmates to encourage them to return to the center.
Before Tet, Vietnam’s Lunar New Year holiday, family members of many inmates have come to the center to protest an order to increase the period of mandatory rehab treatment from two to four years.
Several large escapes have been reported across Vietnam in recent years following a government order to increase the period of mandatory rehab treatment from one to two years.
It is not immediately clear why the Gia Minh Center has increased the period of mandatory rehab treatment to four years. In April 2005, hundreds of male addicts also escaped from the center.
By the end of June, Vietnam has around 183,000 addicts, many of them intravenous drug users.