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Plane stuck in France for trafficking probe allowed to depart for India

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A charter plane detained in France amid a human trafficking investigation is poised to leave for India on Monday, marking the end of a harrowing holiday ordeal for around 300 Indian passengers. Originating from the United Arab Emirates and bound for Nicaragua, the Legend Airlines A340 faced scrutiny upon refueling in Vatry, France, triggering a four-day impasse for passengers en route to Central America.

French authorities, still unraveling the purpose of the initial flight, detained two passengers while investigating potential human trafficking. The nature of the alleged trafficking remains undisclosed, leaving speculation about the passengers’ intended destination, possibly the United States, given the surge in Indian crossings at the Mexico-US border this year.

Despite the holiday season, French authorities diligently worked through Christmas Eve and Christmas morning to finalize formalities, allowing the passengers, including a 21-month-old child and 11 unaccompanied minors, to depart from the Vatry airfield in Champagne country.

The Legend Airlines A340, subject to police action based on an anonymous tip, became the focal point of an airport requisition and makeshift courtroom. Emergency hearings unfolded with judges, lawyers, and interpreters determining the next steps for those on board.

After receiving approval on Sunday, the plane is expected to depart on a direct flight to Mumbai, India, on Monday, according to the Marne regional administration. Despite the green light, challenges persist as some passengers have sought asylum in France, while others, originally bound for Nicaragua on a tourism trip, express reluctance to head to India.

Liliana Bakayoko, the lawyer representing Legend Airlines, affirmed that most passengers would be on board for the departure. However, protests arose during Sunday’s hearings, critiquing the authorities’ handling of the situation and advocating for passengers’ rights.

Foreigners, subject to police investigations in France, can be held in transit zones for up to four days, followed by a special judge’s decision on potential extensions. Despite the tense situation, the Vatry airport ensured adequate facilities, including cots, regular meals, and showers for those held.

Nicaragua, designated by the US government as falling short of minimum standards in combating human trafficking, adds a layer of complexity to the situation. The country has also served as a migratory gateway for individuals escaping poverty or conflict due to relaxed or visa-free entry requirements for select countries, with charter flights occasionally facilitating these journeys.

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