A makeshift courtroom has been set up at a French airport to investigate human trafficking issues.
A plane carrying suspected human trafficking victims was diverted to India on its way to Nicaragua after being stopped in France. He has now landed in Mumbai.
Although no evidence of trafficking was found, the investigation gave rise to concerns about illegal immigration which are still being investigated by French authorities.
Here’s what we know about the flight’s tumultuous journey in recent days.
What happened to the plane suspected of human trafficking in France?
- The plane was an Airbus A340 operated by Romania-based Legend Airlines. The plane, carrying 303 Indian passengers, took off from Fujairah International Airport in Dubai and was heading to Nicaragua in Central America.
- On Thursday afternoon, he stopped to refuel at Vatry airport, about 150 km east of Paris. French police took the opportunity to intervene after an anonymous tip that some of its passengers could be victims of trafficking.
- The plane remained grounded in France for four days for legal deliberations. The reception hall at Vatry airport has been transformed into a waiting area. Passengers have been provided with individual beds while awaiting a decision on their next trip, local authorities in eastern Marne, France, announced on Friday.
- A French court ruled that authorities did not have the legal authority to further detain multiple passengers, and the plane was allowed to take off by French prosecutors on Sunday.
- The Airbus A340 then departed on Monday with 276 Indian passengers and landed in Mumbai early on Tuesday. It is unclear why the plane diverted to Mumbai instead of resuming its journey to Nicaragua. The remaining 27 passengers from the initial flight remained in France.
- In a post on X, the Indian embassy thanked French officials for the “quick resolution of the situation allowing Indian passengers to return home.”
Why was the plane held in France?
A makeshift courtroom was set up at the airport where emergency legal hearings were conducted over two days into the conditions and purposes of the trip by a specialist organized crime unit.
Consular officials from the Indian Embassy in Paris were also there.
Twenty-five of the passengers, including five minors, sought asylum in the country while two passengers were arrested on suspicion of trafficking before being released. They also reportedly requested asylum.
“We cannot keep foreigners in a waiting area for more than 96 hours. Beyond that, it is the judge of liberties and custody who must rule on their fate,” François Procureur, president of the Chalons-en-Champagne Bar Association, declared on local television on Saturday.
Once authorization was received, the plane left Vatry airport.
What evidence of human trafficking has been found?
No concrete evidence has been found, but French authorities have said they continue to investigate possible violations of immigration laws.
The passengers were likely Indian workers in the United Arab Emirates who intended to use Nicaragua as a gateway to the United States or Canada, a close source told Agence France-Presse (AFP). of the investigation.
Liliana Bakayoko, a lawyer for Legend Airlines, denied that the company played any role in human trafficking or had “committed any offense.”
An unnamed “partner” company was responsible for verifying each passenger’s identification documents, according to Bakayoko.
What do we know about passengers?
The passengers were Indian and included numerous children, including 11 unaccompanied minors and a 21-month-old child.
They were “frustrated” after spending several nights at the airport, said Patrick Jaloux, the head of civil protection in Marne.
The 15 crew members of the Legend Airlines flight were also questioned and released.
The Prosecutor said the hearings were “unprecedented”.
“I am surprised at the way things went in the waiting room,” Procureur told BFM television. “People should have been informed of their rights, and clearly that was not the case. »
Why Nicaragua and what happens to the passengers now?
The United States has named Nicaragua the country that has done the least to prevent human trafficking. It is both a source and major transit route for undocumented people seeking to enter the United States.
Even though no human trafficking has yet been confirmed among the plane’s passengers, Geneviève Colas, coordinator of Secours Catholique-Caritas, told AFP that the release of the plane had “surprised” her. “. “What if they were really victims of human trafficking? she asked. “It would then not be fair to let them go to another country.” Secours Catholique-Caritas works with displaced people and migrants in several countries around the world.
In Mumbai, Indian authorities are expected to question returning passengers about their plans because several elements of the case remain unclear.
From October 2022 to September, nearly 97,000 Indians were arrested while trying to enter the United States illegally. This represents a five-fold increase compared to 2019-2020.
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