Ordeal in Champagne Country: Grounded Charter Plane Faces Human Trafficking Investigation
Following an extraordinary Christmas nightmare that saw almost 300 Indians en route to Central America held inside a rural French airport for four days, a charter plane grounded in France for a human trafficking probe is due to depart for India on Monday. The majority of the passengers, according to an airline lawyer, will be on board.
Two passengers on the first flight, which was headed from the United Arab Emirates to Nicaragua, have been detained while French investigators continue to look into its purpose. The type of accused human trafficking and if the passengers’ final destination may have been the United States, which has experienced an increase in Indian immigrants entering the country this year, were questions that the prosecutors declined to address.
Regional prosecutor Annick Browne told The Associated Press that French officials worked through Christmas Eve and Christmas morning on formalities to allow passengers to leave the Vatry airfield in Champagne province. A kid aged 21 months is among the passengers, along with 11 unaccompanied minors who were placed under special administrative care.
After making a fuel stop in Vatry on Thursday while traveling from Fujairah airport to Managua, Nicaragua, the Legend Airlines A340 aircraft was grounded by police on the basis of an anonymous report that it might be carrying victims of human trafficking.
After being commandeered by police for several days, the airport was transformed on Sunday into a temporary courtroom for emergency hearings to decide what to do next. Judges, attorneys, and interpreters crowded the terminal.
An official with the Marne regional administration stated that the plane was scheduled to take off on Monday after receiving permission to leave France on Sunday. Beneath the unidentified aircraft that has been waiting on the airport since Thursday, there is a passenger stairwell in place as of Monday morning.
Attorney Liliana Bakayoko of Legend Airlines stated that although the ultimate number is anticipated to be lower, the airline has been given permission by French authorities to carry 301 of the 303 passengers on a direct route to Mumbai on Monday.
In France, a number of travelers have applied for asylum, a representative of the Marne regional prefecture said.
According to Bakayoko, some other travelers paid for a vacation to Nicaragua, therefore they don’t want to travel to India. The airline has disclaimed any involvement in any potential human trafficking.
Attorneys objected to the way the authorities handled the unusual circumstances and the rights of the passengers during the hearings on Sunday.
In France, foreign nationals may be detained for up to four days while police conduct investigations; beyond that, a special judge will have to decide whether to prolong the detention period for an additional eight days. Those detained at the Vatry airport were provided with daily food and showers, as well as cots, by volunteers, medical personnel, and local authorities.
Nicaragua is one of the nations that the US government has identified as not meeting the requirements necessary to end human trafficking. Because other countries have low or no entrance criteria requiring a visa, Nicaragua has also been used as a migratory springboard for persons fleeing poverty or conflict. On occasion, the trip is made using charter flights.