India initiates probe into suspected human trafficking incident

A significant number of passengers on the flight were from the western Indian state of Gujarat. Among them were 11 unaccompanied minors. Out of the total 303 passengers, 276 have returned to India as of Tuesday.

Indian authorities have commenced an investigation into a suspected case of human trafficking involving 303 Indian citizens who were aboard a chartered flight that was grounded in France last week. The flight, originating from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and en route to Nicaragua, was halted during a refuelling layover at Vatry airport in northeastern France following an anonymous tip-off.

A significant number of passengers on the flight were from the western Indian state of Gujarat. Among them were 11 unaccompanied minors. Out of the total 303 passengers, 276 have returned to India as of Tuesday.

Sanjay Kharat, a senior official from the Gujarat police, revealed that the authorities have obtained the names and addresses of 21 individuals from Gujarat who were on the flight. Currently, investigators are diligently working to ascertain the individuals responsible for facilitating their travel. “Our teams have already engaged in discussions with some of them or their family members,” stated Kharat.

The flight was operated by Legend Airlines, based in Romania. Liliana Bakayoko, the airline’s lawyer, refrained from disclosing the identity of the client who chartered the plane, citing contractual confidentiality. An anonymous official from India’s home ministry informed Reuters that the registration of the chartered flight and the individuals involved in this entire network have been identified, although further details were not provided.

French authorities have initiated an investigation into two passengers on grounds of suspected involvement in human smuggling. These individuals have been placed under the status of “assisted witness,” which serves as an intermediary position between that of a witness and an indicted suspect.

Meanwhile, an additional 25 passengers have chosen to remain in France and apply for asylum. In parallel, Indian immigration officials are also being questioned to ascertain whether any unaccompanied children have departed from India.

This development follows closely after the U.S. State Department’s recent announcement regarding visa restrictions aimed at individuals facilitating charter flights to Nicaragua for migrants en route to the U.S.-Mexico border. According to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the number of Indians apprehended while attempting to enter the United States illegally has tripled over the past three years.

Between October 2022 and September 2023, U.S. authorities apprehended a total of 96,917 Indian nationals, a significant increase from the 30,662 recorded three years prior.