VATRY, France (AP) — Nearly 300 Indian nationals bound for Central America were held hostage at a French airport for a third day Saturday after a dramatic police operation prompted reports that those on board the plane may have been victims of . human traffickingOfficials said.
People aboard included children and families. The youngest passenger is a 21-month-old baby, and many of the children are unaccompanied minors, according to the local civil protection agency.
The two travelers have been detained as part of a special investigation into suspected human trafficking by an organized criminal group, according to the Paris prosecutor's office. Prosecutors would not comment on what type of smuggling was alleged, or whether the final destination was the US, which has seen a surge in Indians crossing the Mexico-US border this year.
French authorities hung white tarpaulins over the high bay windows of the tiny Vatry airport in the Champagne country to ensure the privacy of passengers inside. unmarked A340 aircraft, Grounded since Thursday, can be seen parked near the terminal. Other flights were canceled or diverted as the airport transformed into the center of a massive smuggling investigation.
The 15 crew members of a Legend Airlines charter flight en route from Fujairah Airport in the United Arab Emirates to Managua, Nicaragua, were questioned and released, according to a lawyer for the Romania-based airline.
A surreal holiday weekend scene has been unfolding at Vatri Airport since Thursday. The prosecutor's office said the flight stopped for refueling and that French police stopped the flight based on an anonymous tip that it might be carrying victims of human trafficking.
abnormal and sudden interference with the investigation Air travel According to the administration of the Marne region, police surrounded the airport and flights were disrupted. The airfield is mainly used for charter and cargo flights.
According to a Marne administration official, police quarantined the passengers at the airport, where they spent two nights on camp beds while the investigation continued. The passengers initially remained on the plane and surrounded by police on the road, but were then shifted to the main hall of the airport to sleep, the official said.
Patrick Jaloux, head of the regional civil protection service, said emergency workers, a doctor and local volunteers are at the scene and passengers are being given regular meals, medical care and access to toilets and showers. A special section of the terminal has been equipped for families.
As the difficulties worsen, "we are trying to find ways to help them pass the time and reduce their distress," Jailloux told The Associated Press.
The Indian Embassy in France posted on Twitter on Saturday that Indian consular representatives are deployed at the airport and are working with the French government "for the welfare of Indians" and for "expedited resolution of the situation". Are.
Legend Airlines lawyer Liliana Bakayoko said the company is cooperating with French authorities, denies any role in possible human trafficking and "has committed no violations."
Bakayoko told The Associated Press that a "partner" company that leased the plane was responsible for verifying each passenger's identity documents, and providing their passport information to the airline 48 hours before the flight.
The customer had chartered several flights on Legend Airlines from Dubai to Nicaragua and some other flights had already traveled without incident, he said. She would not identify the customer, saying only that it was not a European company.
The crew members, who are of several nationalities, are "rather shocked," he said. "They texted me saying they wanted to see their families for Christmas."
The US government has nicaragua named As one of several countries considered to have failed to meet the minimum standards to eliminate human trafficking.
Nicaragua has also been used as a migratory springboard for people fleeing poverty or conflict in the Caribbean as well as remote countries in Africa or Asia, due to relaxed visa-free entry requirements for some countries. Has been given. Charter flights are sometimes used for travel. From there, migrants travel north by bus with the help of smugglers.
According to the Mexican immigration agency, the influx of Indian migrants through Mexico has increased from less than 3,000 in 2022 to more than 11,000 from January to November this year. Indian nationals who entered the US illegally from Mexico were arrested 41,770 times in the US government's budget year that ended September 30, more than double the 18,308 arrests the previous year.
Charlton reported from Paris. Maria Verza in Mexico City, Elliot Spaghet in San Diego, Vineeta Deepak in New Delhi and Jeffrey Schaefer in Paris contributed.