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Released Charter Jet in France; Many Passengers Set to Return to India

by Gabriel Martinez
3 comments
Human Trafficking Investigation

A charter aircraft that had been detained in a French airport for four days amid suspicions of human trafficking has been given clearance to depart. The plane, which was transporting 303 Indian passengers to Nicaragua, had been grounded at the Vatry Airport in Champagne country while authorities conducted a thorough investigation. A legal representative for the airline announced that a significant number of the stranded passengers are expected to return to India on Monday.

Local authorities dedicated their efforts on Christmas Eve to address the formalities necessary for allowing certain passengers to exit the small Vatry Airport. This development followed days of confinement within the airport terminal for all passengers, including a 21-month-old child, since their arrival on Thursday.

In connection with a special French investigation into a suspected human trafficking operation by an organized criminal group, two passengers were detained. Additionally, several others sought asylum in France, as confirmed by local administration sources. Furthermore, prosecutors revealed that among the passengers, 11 were unaccompanied minors who were placed under special administrative care.

The Legend Airlines A340 aircraft had made a stop for refueling in Vatry during its journey from Fujairah Airport in the United Arab Emirates to Managua, Nicaragua. It was grounded following an anonymous tip suggesting the possibility of human trafficking victims on board.

For days, the airport was under police control and, on Sunday, it was transformed into a makeshift courtroom, hosting judges, lawyers, and interpreters to conduct emergency hearings to determine the further confinement of the Indian passengers.

Midway through these hearings, a dispute arose regarding the procedures used to detain the passengers at the airport. Consequently, a decision on the next course of action was anticipated overnight, according to the prosecutor’s statement on Sunday.

The order for the seizure of the airliner was lifted on Sunday morning, enabling the rerouting of passengers in the waiting area, as stated by the Marne administration.

Subsequently, the French Civil Aviation Authority began the process of securing the necessary permissions for the aircraft to resume its flight, with an expected departure “no later than Monday morning,” as stated by the prefecture.

Liliana Bakayoko, the lawyer representing Legend Airlines, expressed hope that the plane would be able to depart for Mumbai, India, on Monday, accommodating as many passengers as possible. Although she estimated around 280 passengers could leave, an exact figure was yet to be confirmed by the prosecutor and regional administration.

Local authorities, along with medical personnel and volunteers, ensured the provision of cots, regular meals, and showers for the passengers stranded at the airport. However, lawyers involved in Sunday’s hearings raised concerns about the overall handling of this unusual situation.

Francois Procureur, the head of the Châlons-en-Champagne Bar Association, expressed surprise at the unfolding events in the waiting area and emphasized the importance of informing people of their rights, which appeared to be lacking in this case. He labeled the mass, hastily convened airport hearings as “unprecedented.”

Under French law, foreigners can be held for up to four days in a transit zone during police investigations. After this period, a special judge must decide whether to extend the detention for an additional eight days.

Prosecutors refrained from commenting on the specific nature of the alleged trafficking or the ultimate destination of the passengers, which has raised questions regarding the possibility of the U.S. being involved, given the recent surge in Indians crossing the Mexico-U.S. border.

The 15 crew members of the aircraft were questioned and subsequently released on Saturday, according to Bakayoko. She maintained that the airline denied any involvement in potential human trafficking. Bakayoko explained that a “partner” company responsible for chartering the plane had verified the identification documents of each passenger and communicated their passport information to the airline 48 hours prior to the flight.

It is worth noting that Nicaragua has been designated by the U.S. government as one of several countries that do not meet the minimum standards for eradicating human trafficking. Moreover, Nicaragua has served as a transitional point for individuals fleeing poverty or conflict, owing to its relaxed or visa-free entry requirements for certain countries, with charter flights occasionally facilitating such journeys.

In recent times, there has been a significant increase in Indian citizens attempting to enter the United States illegally from Mexico, with 41,770 arrests recorded during the U.S. government’s last fiscal year, marking a substantial increase from the previous year’s figure of 18,308.


Reported by [Name Withheld], London. Contribution to this report by Jeffrey Schaeffer, journalist at Big Big News in Paris.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Human Trafficking Investigation

What led to the charter jet being detained in France?

The charter jet was detained in France due to suspicions of human trafficking based on an anonymous tip received while it was en route from the United Arab Emirates to Nicaragua.

How long were the passengers stranded at the airport?

The passengers, including a 21-month-old child, were stranded at the Vatry Airport in Champagne country for four days during the investigation.

Were any passengers detained or granted asylum?

Two passengers were detained as part of a special French investigation into human trafficking. Several others requested asylum in France.

What was the outcome of the emergency hearings held at the airport?

The emergency hearings to determine whether to continue sequestering the Indian passengers were halted midway due to a dispute over the detention procedures. A decision on the next steps was expected overnight.

How many passengers are expected to leave for India?

The exact number of passengers departing for India was not confirmed, but the airline estimated that around 280 passengers should be able to leave once the necessary permissions were secured.

What role did the airline play in verifying passenger identities?

The airline, Legend Airlines, stated that a “partner” company responsible for chartering the plane had verified the identification documents of each passenger and communicated their passport information to the airline 48 hours before the flight.

What is the significance of Nicaragua in relation to human trafficking?

Nicaragua has been designated by the U.S. government as one of several countries failing to meet minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking. It has also served as a transitional point for people fleeing poverty or conflict, often facilitated by charter flights.

What caused the recent surge in Indians attempting to enter the U.S. illegally?

The surge in Indians attempting to enter the U.S. illegally from Mexico is attributed to a significant increase in arrests, with 41,770 Indian citizens arrested during the U.S. government’s last fiscal year, marking a substantial rise from the previous year’s figure of 18,308.

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3 comments

AviationNerd December 25, 2023 - 11:55 pm

Da airline say dey didn’t do it! Partner company checked peeps’ papers. Nicaragua’s sketchy for trafficking, and more Indians tryna cross to the U.S.? Crazy stuff, man!

Reply
Traveler21 December 26, 2023 - 12:59 am

So passengers got stranded coz someone snitched ’bout human trafficking? Not cool, dude! Detention, asylum, all jumbled up in dis story.

Reply
Reader456 December 26, 2023 - 1:37 am

Wow, dis plane detention thing is like, mega crazy! Dey tot it was human trafficking, so dey stopped it in France. Poor peeps stuck at airport 4 days!

Reply

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