French authorities grounded an Airbus A340 aircraft carrying 303 Indian nationals on December 22nd over suspicions of human trafficking, leading to a diplomatic situation between India and France. The flight operated by French charter company Legend Aviation was traveling from Abu Dhabi to Managua, Nicaragua when it stopped to refuel at Paris’ Vatry airport and was ordered held by police. Two Indian nationals on the flight have been taken into custody by French border police for questioning.
The detention has sparked reactions from both the Indian government and the charter company operating the flight. India claims the passengers were illegally detained while Legend Aviation decried “inappropriate and excessive actions” by French authorities. The coming days will determine if the passengers are released to continue their journey or if charges are filed related to trafficking allegations.
Background Leading Up to Flight’s Detention
The flight’s lengthy journey originated in India, with passengers assembling in Amritsar before taking flights to the UAE. The 303 Indian citizens were working in Abu Dhabi on short-term visas and had booked tickets to Nicaragua via France.
Most of the passengers were from Punjab and had paid around 20,000 INR ($250 USD) for the trip. Their final destination was reportedly Bluefields, Nicaragua, where some had secured visas to work.
Charter company Legend Aviation operated the flight, an Airbus A340 that departed Abu Dhabi on December 21st. The flight plan showed a technical halt in France to refuel before the final leg to Nicaragua.
|Legend Aviation (France)
|Abu Dhabi, UAE
|Vatry, Paris, France
Emergency Landing and Detention at Vatry Airport
During the December 22nd refueling stop at Vatry airport outside Paris, border police boarded the plane and ordered it grounded it based on suspicions of human trafficking. Police said they received an anonymous tipoff alleging some passengers were victims.
Two male Indian nationals were detained by police and taken into custody for questioning regarding potential trafficking links. Other passengers remained on board the aircraft during initial investigation by authorities.
The Indian embassy in Paris promptly requested immediate consular access to its detained citizens, which France granted the next day. India’s foreign ministry also began an investigation into the incident.
Indian Government Decries “Unlawful Detention”
India strongly objected to France’s actions, claiming authorities had unlawfully detained the plane and Indian citizens aboard. The Ministry of External Affairs said French border officials acted “unilaterally” in holding passengers and asked that they be allowed to depart soon.
India disputes the human trafficking allegations. Officials noted that most passengers had valid Indian passports, UAE residency permits, and confirmed return tickets. Some had also secured Nicaraguan visas through VFS Global, an authorized visa processing firm.
“We understand that the French border authorities were acting on some inputs they had received regarding possible human trafficking,” India’s Ambassador Jawed Ashraf commented. However, after investigating Indian officials found no immediate signs of trafficking links.
Charter Company Decries “Excessive Measures”
Legend Aviation issued multiple statements defending its flight and passengers. The company said it had complied will all regulations and claimed French authorities took the “unprecedented and excessive measure” of detaining an aircraft outside EU territory.
Legend Aviation also underscored that India’s embassy had found passengers held valid documents, questioning why the flight was still being prevented from continuing. The firm denounced reporting linking its flight to trafficking as “completely unfounded.”
In later comments Legend reiterated that its crew and passengers committed no violations. It said cooperation with relevant authorities had “unfortunately been unsatisfactory” and that some media coverage appeared “deliberately denigrating.”
What Comes Next for Grounded Flight
All 303 Indian passengers remained stranded at Vatry airport in the coming days as French border police continued investigating suspected trafficking links. Authorities extended an initial 24-hour detention period as they interviewed passengers and examined documents.
The coming week will determine if evidence backing up trafficking allegations is uncovered or if France releases the flight to continue to Nicaragua. According to reports, France plans to return passengers to India if its investigation ends inconclusively. Alternatively, any evidence found could lead to criminal charges against detained passengers.
India continues demanding the flight’s release, though France maintains it is following international protocols. Indian consular teams were assisting stranded citizens in the meantime, including providing accommodations, food, and hygiene kits.
The unusual situation has sparked a diplomatic dialogue between both nations. Their foreign ministries held consultations, however France told India that border procedures needed completing first. The Indian ambassador said France agreed to expedite investigation procedures as much as possible.
Human trafficking concerns also put charter company Legend Aviation under scrutiny going forward. Its business licenses and flight authorizations face review by French regulators if irregularities are confirmed. However, the firm continues defending its compliance record despite criticism.
The coming week’s developments will ultimately settle the stranded passengers’ fate. India hopes for their prompt return home, but trafficking probes mean the flight to Nicaragua remains barred from taking off indefinitely. The sensitive case now risks escalating into a rift between France and India’s governments pending its resolution.
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