276 Indians stuck in a French airport for days for a human trafficking probe have left for India

by Lucas Garcia
Human Trafficking Probe

On Monday, a charter aircraft detained in France as part of a human trafficking investigation took off for India, carrying 276 Indian nationals. Initially en route to Nicaragua, these passengers experienced a prolonged delay, spending four days confined at a rural French airport during a holiday season, in what turned into an extraordinary situation.

Journalists from Big Big News witnessed the departure of the unmarked Legend Airlines A340 from Vatry Airport, located in France’s Champagne region. The aircraft’s crew and passengers were seen boarding before takeoff.

According to regional authorities, 276 out of the initial 303 passengers were on their way to Mumbai. Meanwhile, 25 passengers sought asylum in France. Those who did not board the flight to Mumbai were moved to a designated asylum-seeker area at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport. Among those stranded at the French airport were a toddler aged 21 months and several minors traveling without guardians.

Two other passengers, initially apprehended as part of the human trafficking inquiry, were released on Monday following a court appearance. The Paris prosecutor’s office stated that they were designated as “assisted witnesses” in the case. This French legal status permits additional investigation time and could eventually lead to either charges or the dismissal of the case.

The aircraft, originally flying from Fujairah Airport in the United Arab Emirates to Managua, Nicaragua, landed at Vatry for refueling on Thursday. However, it was grounded by the police following an anonymous tip suggesting the plane might be transporting victims of human trafficking.

While prosecutors refrained from commenting on the possibility of the U.S. being the passengers’ ultimate destination, the U.S. has reported an increase in Indian nationals crossing the Mexico-U.S. border this year.

French officials are examining the initial purpose of the flight and have launched a judicial investigation into the involvement of an organized criminal group in aiding illegal entry or stay in a country. As of Monday, the prosecutor’s office had not confirmed whether human trafficking, as defined by the U.N., remained a suspicion in this case.

At the Vatry airport, requisitioned by the police for several days, local authorities, medical personnel, and volunteers provided essential services such as beds, meals, and showers for the detained individuals. The airport also temporarily transformed into a makeshift courtroom on Sunday, where judges, lawyers, and interpreters conducted emergency hearings to decide subsequent actions.

Some attorneys criticized the handling of the situation by authorities during Sunday’s hearings, suggesting an overreaction to the anonymous tip. The Indian Embassy expressed gratitude on X (formerly Twitter) to the French officials for facilitating the return of the Indian citizens. French authorities spent Christmas Eve and Christmas morning completing formalities to enable the passengers’ departure, as informed by regional prosecutor Annick Browne to The Big Big News.

In France, foreigners can be detained for up to four days in a transit zone for police investigations, after which a special judge may extend this period to eight days.

Liliana Bakayoko, the lawyer for Legend Airlines, mentioned that some passengers were reluctant to return to India as they had paid for a tourist trip to Nicaragua. The airline has denied any involvement in potential human trafficking activities.

The U.S. has identified Nicaragua as one of several countries not meeting the minimum standards for combating human trafficking. Nicaragua is also known for its relaxed entry requirements, making it a transit point for individuals escaping poverty or conflict. Charter flights are often employed for these journeys.

The report includes contributions from Charlton in Paris and Big Big News writer Boubkar Benzebat from Vatry.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Human Trafficking Probe

What was the situation involving 276 Indians at a French airport?

A charter plane from Legend Airlines carrying 276 Indian nationals was grounded at a rural French airport as part of a human trafficking investigation. Originally heading to Nicaragua, these passengers were stranded for four days before departing for India.

Why were the passengers held at the French airport?

The passengers were detained due to an anonymous tip suggesting the possibility of human trafficking. French authorities grounded the plane to investigate the matter, leading to the extended stay of the passengers at the airport.

What actions were taken for the passengers at the French airport?

The detained passengers, including a 21-month-old child and unaccompanied minors, were provided with cots, meals, and showers. Emergency hearings were conducted at the airport to determine the next steps, with some passengers eventually requesting asylum in France.

What was the outcome for the passengers and the investigation?

Most passengers (276 out of 303) eventually left for Mumbai, India. 25 requested asylum in France, and the remaining were taken to a special zone at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Two passengers were initially detained for the investigation but were later released as ‘assisted witnesses’.

How did the situation at the French airport conclude?

After a few days of investigation and legal proceedings, the majority of the passengers were able to leave France. French authorities and the Indian Embassy coordinated to ensure the safe return of the Indian nationals. The investigation into the alleged human trafficking is ongoing.

More about Human Trafficking Probe

  • Human Trafficking Definitions by the United Nations
  • French Legal Procedures for Detainment
  • India-Nicaragua Flight Path and Regulations
  • Legend Airlines Official Statement on Incident
  • U.S. Government’s Stance on Nicaragua and Human Trafficking
  • French Prosecutor’s Office and Judicial Inquiry Practices
  • Indian Nationals and U.S. Border Crossing Trends
  • Legal Status of Asylum Seekers in France
  • International Air Travel Regulations and Rights
  • Role of Embassies in International Incidents

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SammyTalks December 25, 2023 - 5:16 pm

its good that most of them are going back home but what about those who asked for asylum?

CuriousGeorge December 25, 2023 - 10:09 pm

I read somewhere that human trafficking is a big issue, but this seems like a bit of an overreaction maybe??

JennyLuv December 25, 2023 - 11:30 pm

i feel bad for those people stuck at the airport, must’ve been scary not knowing what’s happening

LegalEagle December 26, 2023 - 2:11 am

assisted witness is a interesting legal term, wonder what it exactly means in french law?

TravelBug87 December 26, 2023 - 4:59 am

so they were just heading to Nicaragua? why would anyone think it’s human trafficking

NewsJunkie December 26, 2023 - 11:42 am

I’m following this story closely, the outcome of the investigation could be very revealing.

MikeR December 26, 2023 - 2:30 pm

wow this is huge news, didn’t expect such a big story on christmas day

AnnaBee December 26, 2023 - 4:22 pm

Just shows how complicated international travel can get, feel sorry for the innocent passengers caught in this.


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