On Thursday, a Legend Airlines plane was grounded in Vantry Airport, northeast France, following an anonymous tip-off that its 303 Indian passengers may be victims of human trafficking. According to the local protection agency, among them was a 21-month-old toddler and 11 unaccompanied children.
The unmarked A340 plane left Fujairah airport in the United Arab Emirates and bound for Managua, Nicaragua. It stopped to refuel in France, where police ultimately grounded it.
The Paris prosecutor’s office says two passengers are being held concerning the ongoing investigation into an organised crime group. On the case are France’s special organised crime unit, JUNALCO; aviation gendarmes, and border police, all looking into the conditions and purpose of the trip. Crew members were also questioned but have since been released. No further comments were provided regarding the nature of the alleged trafficking or if the final destination was the U.S.
There have been reports of a growing number of Indians crossing the Mexico-US border. New data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows a dramatic spike, with over 90,000 undocumented Indians entering the country this year. That’s five times more than the previous year. Immigration experts have observed multiple driving forces for this trend, including more sophisticated methods to smuggle people into the U.S.
The Indian Embassy in France received confirmation of the incident from French authorities and is currently investigating the matter. They posted on X (formerly Twitter): “[The] embassy team has reached and obtained consular access.”
The flight is operated by Legend Airlines, a Romanian-based company, which denies any involvement in human trafficking. According to its company lawyer Liliana Bakayoko, verifying passenger documents was the responsibility of a “trusted partner” company (whom she wouldn’t name) that chartered the plane. That information was passed on to the airline 48 hours before takeoff. She added that the company is willing to cooperate with French authorities and hopes the plane will arrive within the next few days.
As the inquiry continues, passengers are still sequestered in the airport and sleeping on camp beds. An official in the local administration says emergency aid and local volunteers have been providing medical care, food, and access to sanitation facilities. The Indian Embassy’s consular staff have also been monitoring their wellbeing.
Editor: Kaiyah Ellison
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