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Plane With 303 Indians Still In France, Some Don’t Want To Return: Report

Dozens of passengers have requested asylum, sources told news agency AFP (Representational).

New Delhi:

The status of what was a Nicaragua-bound Airbus A340 with 303 passengers – several of whom are Indian, 11 are unaccompanied minors and one is an infant – remains uncertain, with news agency PTI reporting this evening it remains grounded at a Paris airport over human trafficking links.

It appears many of those on board do not want to return to their respective countries of origin.

“The situation is confusing,” Liliana Bakayoko, legal counsel for Romania’s Legend Airlines, to whom the plane is registered, told a French TV channel and radio network. “Some of the passengers were unhappy… because they wanted to continue their journey to Nicaragua as planned.”

Earlier in the day she told PTI the plane was would leave France at 10 am local time (2:30 PM IST) and land in Mumbai late Monday or early Tuesday. Shortly after that local police told a French newspaper, Le Monde, the plane would not leave “before noon (local time (4:30 PM IST))”.

Ms Bakayoko indicated then only 200-250 passengers had consented to return. These, she said, would include those who were not in police custody or had not appealed to French for asylum.

At least two passengers are among those who have not been authorised to leave and around four dozen have sought asylum. Reports indicate some of the passengers spoke Tamil, and some Hindi.

READ | Indians On Flight Grounded In France Over Trafficking Fears Questioned

The two not authorised to leave have reportedly been asked “to verify” if their role “may have been different than the others in this transport, and under what conditions and with what objectives”.

The flight – a charter service from Dubai to Nicaragua – had landed at the Vatry Airport, which is around 160 km from Paris, to refuel. It was then grounded after a tip-off that the passengers were “likely to be victims of human trafficking”. Sources told news agency AFP the plane could be part of a crime syndicate trying to smuggle people into the United States via the Central American country.

France’s anti-organised crime unit, JUNALCO, is now leading investigations.

Human trafficking carries a potential sentence of up to 20 years in France.

On Sunday authorities had said the plane could leave. This was after local judges questioned all those on board. Under French law foreign nationals can be detained for extended periods on arrival.

“We are very relieved. We were impatiently waiting for this,” Ms Bakayoko had said then.

READ | Beds, Meals Provided To Indian Passengers Of Plane Grounded In France

Indian citizens on board have been given consular access, and the Indian government has said it is working with its French counterpart to resolve the situation. The passengers were provided makeshift beds, food and water, and access to toilets and showers, at the airport itself, officials said.

Legend Airlines has said it believes it has done nothing wrong and is ready to help the authorities with the investigation. It will also “seek damages from (the) client” who chartered its plane.

With input from agencies

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