300 Travelers Held for 3 Days at French Airport

Authorities say they received tip about suspected human trafficking
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 23, 2023 2:40 PM CST
300 Travelers Held for 3 Days at French Airport
A rescue vehicle parks outside the Vatry airport, eastern France, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023.   (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

About 300 Indian citizens heading to Central America were sequestered in a French airport for a third day Saturday because of an investigation into suspected human trafficking, authorities said. The 15 crew members of the Legend Airlines charter flight en route from United Arab Emirates to Nicaragua were questioned and released, according to a lawyer for the small Romania-based airline. She said they are deeply shaken by what happened. The flight stopped Thursday at the Vatry Airport in eastern France for refueling, and was grounded by police based on an anonymous tip that it could be carrying victims of human trafficking, the Paris prosecutor's office said. It said two people have been detained and special investigators are questioning the other passengers.

The unusual and sudden probe disrupted holiday weekend air travel as police cordoned off the airport and all flights in and out of the regional airport were halted, according to the administration for the Marne region. Some were rerouted. The airfield is used primarily for charter and cargo flights. Police sequestered the passengers in the airport, where they have spent two nights on camp beds while the investigation continues, according to the Marne administration. It said they initially remained in the A340 plane, surrounded by police on the tarmac, but were then transferred into the main hall of the airport to sleep, the AP reports.

The Indian Embassy in France posted on X that embassy staff had obtained consular access to the passengers. "We are investigating the situation and ensuring the wellbeing of passengers," it said. Investigators from a specialized French organized crime unit, border police, and aviation gendarmes are working on the case. Legend Airlines lawyer Liliana Bakayoko said the company denies any role in possible human trafficking, and welcomed the news that the plane's crew had been released after questioning as "good news for the airline.''

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The customer had chartered multiple flights on Legend Airlines from Dubai to Nicaragua, and a few others have already made the journey without incident, she said. She would not identify the customer, saying only that it is not a European company. The US government has designated Nicaragua as one of several countries deemed as failing to meet minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking. (At El Salvador's main airport, travelers from India and dozens of other countries now have to pay a $1,130 fee to take connecting flights to Nicaragua and other destinations.)

(More human trafficking stories.)

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