Plane grounded in France sent back to India with 276 passengers

Passengers on a plane that had been grounded in France for days over concerns of a human trafficking scheme landed in Mumbai, India, early Tuesday.


Upon arrival in Mumbai, after receiving authorisation to depart on Monday, the 276 passengers disembarked from the airport without divulging details of their recent experiences or where they would go next. 

Carrying backpacks or small suitcases, some concealed their identities by wearing hoods or masks.

According to local French authorities, 276 out of the original 303 passengers boarded the flight to India, while 25 others sought asylum in France.

The asylum-seekers, including five children, were relocated to a dedicated area at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport for processing.

Among the individuals stranded in France were a 21-month-old baby and several unaccompanied minors.

Initially detained as part of a human trafficking inquiry, two passengers were released on Monday after appearing before a judge. The judge granted them the status of “assisted witnesses,” allowing for further investigation that may lead to charges or the case being dropped, as per French law.

The Paris prosecutor’s office did not comment on whether the passengers’ ultimate destination might have been the US, where there has been an increase in Indians crossing the Mexico-US border this year.

French authorities are actively investigating the purpose of the original flight and have initiated a judicial inquiry into the activities of an organised criminal group assisting foreigners in entering or staying in a country illegally.

The prosecutor’s office did not specify whether human trafficking, defined by the UN as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of people through force, fraud, or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit,” is still under suspicion.

During Sunday’s hearings, some lawyers protested against the handling of the situation by authorities and questioned the passengers’ rights, suggesting that the response to the anonymous tip may have been an overreaction by the police and prosecutors.

The Indian Embassy expressed gratitude to French officials for facilitating the return of the Indian passengers.

Liliana Bakayoko, the lawyer for Legend Airlines, mentioned that some passengers resisted returning to India, claiming they had paid for a tourism trip to Nicaragua. 

The airline denied any involvement in potential human trafficking.

The US government has designated Nicaragua as one of several countries failing to meet minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking. Nicaragua has also served as a migratory springboard for those fleeing poverty or conflict, given its relaxed or visa-free entry requirements for certain countries, with charter flights sometimes used for such journeys.

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