Toddlers, Teens Among 13 Unescorted Children On Plane Grounded In France

Thirteen unaccompanied minors are among the more than 300 Indian passengers of a Nicaragua-bound plane held in France over suspected human trafficking, authorities told AFP on Saturday.

Toddlers, Teens Among 13 Unescorted Children On Plane Grounded In France

Ten Indian passengers among more than 300, including unaccompanied minors, on a Nicaragua-bound plane held in France over suspected human trafficking have applied for asylum, a source close to the case told AFP Saturday.

The plane has been held at Vatry airport, 150 kilometres (95 miles) east of Paris, since arriving from Dubai on Thursday following an anonymous tip-off that it was carrying potential victims of human trafficking.

The Paris prosecutor's office said there was 11 unaccompanied minors on board the Airbus jet, although regional authorities earlier pinned the number at 13. 

Six of the minors also expressed an interest in applying for asylum, Aurore Opyrchal, a lawyer appointed by the region to represent some of the passengers, told AFP.

French authorities have not yet confirmed the passenger details.

The 303 passengers of the flight operated by Romanian company Legend Airlines were still in the airport's entrance hall on Saturday morning, an AFP reporter saw.

Hearings are due to be held Sunday before a judge who has the authority to extend the detention order being use by border police by another eight days.

Tarpaulin covered the entrance hall's glass exterior and nearby administrative buildings, while police and gendarmes prevented access.

Detention for two extended

Two passengers in custody since Friday had their detention extended Saturday evening for up to 48 hours, according to the Paris prosecutor's office.

They were being held "in order to verify" whether their role "may have been different than the others in this transport, and under what conditions and with what objectives", they said.

Investigators have checked the identity of passengers and flight crew, and are verifying the "conditions and purposes" of their travel, the prosecutor added.

The Indian Embassy in Paris said Saturday that it was working for "a rapid resolution of the situation", posting on X that "consular officials are on site".

Liliana Bakayoko, a lawyer for the airline, said all crew members had been questioned and allowed to leave.

A source close to the inquiry told AFP that some of the Indian passengers were likely workers in the United Arab Emirates who may have sought to go to Nicaragua on their way to the United States or Canada.

Authorities said they have installed camp beds and portable toilets at the airport and are providing meals for the passengers as the inquiry continues.

According to the Flightradar tracking site, Legend Airlines has a fleet of just four aircraft, and its unmarked Airbus jet remained immobilised on the Vatry tarmac on Saturday.

Legend "has operated only a few flights on this route, always for the same client" that is not based in Europe, the airline said in a statement.

It added that it would join any suit as a plaintiff if prosecutors open a case on trafficking charges.