• Wednesday, April 24, 2024

ASIA

Plane held for days in France on trafficking concerns lands in India

French customs officers stand next to a customs car with an Airbus A340 in the background which was grounded on the tarmac since December 21 over suspected “human trafficking”, at the Vatry airport, north-eastern France on December 25, 2023. Two Indians passengers on the flight grounded since December 21, in the Marne region of France on suspicion of human trafficking will be presented to an examining magistrate on December 25, with possible indictment, while most of the other passengers are due to take off for India later on December 25. (Photo by FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI / AFP) (Photo by FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Chandrashekar Bhat

A PLANE that had been grounded in France for days over concerns its roughly 300 mostly Indian passengers were part of a human trafficking scheme landed in Mumbai on Tuesday (26).

The Airbus A340 initially had been bound for Nicaragua when it was detained last Thursday (21) at Vatry airport, east of Paris, where it had stopped for refuelling.

It had arrived from Dubai and there was an anonymous tip-off that it was carrying potential victims of human trafficking.

Of the original 303 people on the passenger list, 276 were on the plane that took off on Monday (25) afternoon, arriving in Mumbai after a nearly nine-hour flight.

A senior airport official, who was not authorised to speak to journalists, confirmed the flight had landed at 4:00 am local time on Tuesday (2230 GMT Monday).

The arrival of the plane was also shown on aviation tracking website Flightradar24.

There was no official Indian statement on the arrival or details of when the passengers would be allowed to leave the airport.

Among those staying behind were two people questioned by French police over suspected people trafficking, but a judicial source said they were released after it was established the passengers had boarded the plane of their own free will.

The French authorities are continuing to investigate the case for a potential violation of immigration laws, but no longer for people trafficking, judicial sources said.

The suspects’ release came because “the investigating judge was able to resist media pressure in this case”, said their lawyer, Salome Cohen.

The pair have received an expulsion order from France, their lawyers said.

The other 25 people have sought asylum in France, the prefecture said. Five of them are minors, it said, updating an earlier figure of two.

Their applications will be processed at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.

‘Quick resolution’

After questioning the passengers for two days, French prosecutors on Sunday (24) gave the go-ahead for the plane to leave.

A source close to the inquiry said the Indians were likely workers in the United Arab Emirates who had been bound for Nicaragua, which they intended to use as a jumping-off spot for the United States or Canada.

The passengers of the flight, operated by Romanian company Legend Airlines, were put up at the airport during the investigation.

Beds, toilets and showers were installed, the local prefecture said, while police prevented press and outsiders from entering the airport.

The passengers included 11 unaccompanied minors, according to Paris prosecutors.

The Indian embassy in Paris posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Monday that it was grateful for the “quick resolution” of the incident.

The authorisation for the plane to leave came after a French court ruled that any further detention of three of the passengers would be illegal.

But Genevieve Colas, coordinator at the Secours Catholique-Caritas association, said the release of the plane had “surprised” her.

“What if they really are victims of people trafficking?” she asked. “Then it wouldn’t be right to just let them take off to another country.”

The 30 crew members were not detained. Some had handled the Dubai-Vatry leg while others were to take over for the flight to Managua.

The use of charter flights to aid migrants in getting to their dream destination “is a relatively new phenomenon,” Manuel Orozco, director of migration issues at the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue, said last month.

Orozco said he believed that airline operators and Nicaraguan airport authorities made “an economic calculation” for their “mutual benefit.”

According to Flightradar24, Legend Airlines has just four planes.

(AFP)

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