Inside the International Flights Filled With Unaccompanied Babies

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam—On Sept. 5, 2020, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner took off from South Korea’s Incheon International Airport en route to Vietnam. On board the repatriation flight VN409 were 403 Vietnamese citizens—including 41 unaccompanied babies, who were being sent back to the country without their parents.

Waiting at the Ho Chi Minh City airport for one of the babies was Nguyen Hoa My, who had set off at 2 a.m. that same morning from her home in northern Vietnam, in order to meet up with the flight from Seoul and retrieve her granddaughter.

The flight from South Korea was delayed by almost two hours. “Airport officials said the papers of two babies had gotten lost and there was a last-minute scramble to sort out the paperwork back in Seoul, which led to the delay,” Nguyen recalls. “I thought I would be able to see the baby immediately, but I was told I wouldn’t be allowed through. At that point, I didn’t yet know which quarantine center they were all heading to, but another grandmother received a tip-off and so we made our way over to Bau Bang together.”

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