Courtesy: Dawn News/AFP
VATRY: A plane with close to 300 Indian passengers detained near Paris over suspicions of human trafficking took off Monday for Mumbai after being cleared for departure by French police.
The Airbus A340 carrying 303 Indians had been bound for Nicaragua when it was detained last Thursday 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 just before 3pm.
Among the passengers staying behind were two people questioned by French police over suspected people trafficking, but a judicial source said police released them after establishing that the 303 passengers had boarded the plane of their own free will.
Plane with over 300 passengers leaves for Mumbai
The French authorities are continuing to investigate the case for violation of immigration laws, but no longer for potential 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 would be processed at Charles-de-Gaulle airport.
After questioning the passengers for two days, French prosecutors on Sunday gave the go-ahead for the plane to leave.
A source close to the inquiry told AFP that the Indians were likely workers in the United Arab Emirates who had been bound for Nicaragua 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.
After landing in France, they were first kept on the aircraft, but then let out and given individual beds in the terminal building. The entire airport was cordoned off by police.
The reception hall at the airport was then transformed into a waiting area.
Beds, toilets and showers were installed, the local prefecture said, while police have 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 handled the Dubai-Vatry leg and others were to take over for the flight to Managua. According to Flightradar24, Legend Airlines has just four planes.
1- Header image: CUSTOMS officers stand near the plane that was grounded at an airport in France over suspected ‘human trafficking’.—AFP