Indians Onboard Flight Grounded In France To Reach Mumbai Today
A Nicaragua-bound Airbus A340 that was detained near Paris airport over human trafficking links with close to 300 Indian passengers took off for Mumbai.
A Nicaragua-bound Airbus A340 that was detained near Paris airport over human trafficking links with close to 300 Indian passengers took off for Mumbai. The departure comes after hours of confusion over the plane's status amid reports that many on board did not want to return to their home nations.
Of the original 303 people on the passenger list, 276 were on the plane that took off just around 7.30 PM IST.
Among the passengers staying behind were two people questioned by French police over suspected people trafficking, but a judicial source told AFP that police released them after establishing that the 303 passengers had boarded the plane of their own free will. The others, 25 people of whom two are minors, have sought asylum in France, the prefecture said. Their applications would be processed at Charles-de-Gaulle airport.
"The situation is confusing," Liliana Bakayoko, legal counsel for Romania's Legend Airlines, to whom the plane is registered, told a French TV channel and radio network earlier today. "Some of the passengers were unhappy... because they wanted to continue their journey to Nicaragua as planned."
Earlier in the day she told PTI the plane was would leave France at 10 am local time (2:30 PM IST) and land late Monday or early Tuesday. She told Le Monde the necessary clearances had been obtained.
She indicated then only 200-250 passengers had consented to return. These, she said, would include those who were not in police custody or had not appealed to French for asylum. Reports indicate some passengers spoke Tamil and some Hindi.
However, shortly after that police told Le Monde, the plane would not leave "before noon..."
The flight - a charter service from Dubai - had landed at the airport, which is around 160 km from Paris, to refuel. It was then grounded after a tip-off the pax were "likely to be victims of human trafficking".
Sources told news agency AFP the plane could be part of a crime syndicate trying to smuggle people into the United States via the Central American country.
France's anti-organised crime unit, JUNALCO, is now leading investigations.
Human trafficking carries a potential sentence of up to 20 years in France.
On Sunday authorities had said the plane could leave. This was after local judges questioned all those on board. Under French law foreign nationals can be detained for extended periods on arrival.
"We are very relieved. We were impatiently waiting for this," Ms Bakayoko had said then.
Indian citizens on board have been given consular access, and the Indian government has said it is working with its French counterpart to resolve the situation. The passengers were provided makeshift beds, food and water, and access to toilets and showers, at the airport itself, officials said.
Legend Airlines has said it believes it has done nothing wrong and is ready to help the authorities with the investigation. It will also "seek damages from (the) client" who chartered its plane.
With input from agencies
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