Safety matters: Saigon knife attack renews fears of crimes against tourists

By Tran Tam, Thanh Nien News

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Foreigners cross a street in Ho Chi Minh City with the help of a security officer. Photo: Diep Duc Minh Foreigners cross a street in Ho Chi Minh City with the help of a security officer. Photo: Diep Duc Minh

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Sebastian Gretz was sitting with his girlfriend by a canal in District 1 at 3 a.m. on Monday when a group of young men attacked him with a knife.
They fled with his wallet and phone, leaving him with multiple slash wounds.
Police in Ho Chi Minh City are looking for the gang who attacked the German tourist. And although violent acts on this scale might be rare, officers admit that street crimes targeting foreigners are rising.
The city's tourism department said the police have been working on 124 robbery and snatch-and-run cases involving foreign tourists this year.
Tourism companies said there were other victims who did not have the time or patience to file a report, given the complicated procedures and the fact that few police officers speak English.
Many cases happened in the backpackers’ area when the tourists were walking in late night or early in the morning.
Police in June chased and caught two men who rode a motorbike and snatched the bag of 19-year-old Jennifer Stainton from the UK when she was walking on Pham Ngu Lao Street.
The duo then said they had robbed another foreigner in the area just half an hour earlier.
On May 21, another tourist from the UK tried to hold on to her bag after two robbers on a motorbike grabbed it and dragged her on Le Lai Street. Some officers intervened in time. She suffered scratches on her back. 
Robberies in the city have become a big topic on many travel forums.
A foreign tourist said on one of the forums that her bag was snatched when she just stepped out of a car. The incident caused her to fall. 
That happened just one week after someone tried to snatch an iPad from her husband in District 1 but failed.
She advised others not to carry bags or valuables on the streets.
Another foreign woman lost her iPhone when she was in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral on October 14.
She said someone took the phone right from her hand. She screamed for help but that person quickly passed it to others and together they vanished.
La Quoc Khanh, deputy director of Ho Chi Minh Tourism Department, said the rising street crimes are “extremely dangerous” to the tourism industry because tourists will share their stories and few people would come.
Khanh said that the number of Japanese tourists, for example, dropped last year, in large part due to safety concerns.
He said the Japanese Consulate in the city lodged a complaint to the city’s foreign affairs and tourism departments every year about Japanese citizens being robbed here.
“No matter how much we spend to promote tourism, we will not be able to build a good image after these incidents,” Khanh said.
He said the recent knife attack against the German tourist would make some travelers from Germany think twice about Vietnam. 
Vietnam in July offered visa waivers to tourists from Germany, as well as France, the UK, Italy. The country has already waived visa requirements for visitors from Russia, Japan, South Korea, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland.
Khanh said his department will work with the police to enhance measures to protect tourists, especially those traveling on their own.
Police in Pham Ngu Lao Ward in District 1 late last year started distributing leaflets warning tourists about scams and security issues. The campaign has not been extended.
The city's government on Thursday signed a decision to open a tourist support center at 140 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, District 3, to handle complaints. 
The city in March also launched a tourist hotline (08 1087).

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