India: police investigate migrant smuggling revealed by plane seizure in France

Indian police said Friday they were working to find the leaders of a smuggling network, discovered during the recent immobilization by French authorities of a plane carrying 303 Indian passengers bound for Nicaragua. Coming from the United Arab Emirates, the Airbus A340 was grounded by French police last week at Vatry airport, east of Paris, during a stopover to refuel, after an anonymous report indicating that it was transporting potential victims of human trafficking.

The plane took off again on Monday from France to Bombay after the seizure was lifted, with 276 of its passengers on board. The latter had paid between “4 and 12 million rupees” (43,500 – 130,500 euros) to smugglers to help them reach the southern border of the United States from South America, Sanjay Kharat told AFP, Gujarat State Police Commissioner.

Authorities are trying to determine the possible involvement of official agents

“We want to know how these people came into contact with the smugglers,” and “what was their plan after reaching Nicaragua,” he added. Of the 276 passengers sent back to India, 66 were from Gujarat. “We have identified people who could provide us with information about this illegal trafficking and are in the process of interviewing them,” he said. Most of the other passengers are from the state of Punjab, in northern India, where police also told AFP they were investigating.

A local police official said on condition of anonymity that investigators were trying to determine the scale of the network and the possible involvement of official agents. The flight was operated by the Romanian charter company Legend Airlines, and during the affair, which fueled a media sensation, the passengers were kept in the waiting area of ​​the small Vatry airport. Among those remaining in France, two people questioned by police on suspicion of human trafficking were released once it was established that the passengers had boarded the plane of their own free will, according to a French judicial source.

Another 25 passengers, including five minors, requested asylum in France, where authorities continue to investigate the case for potential violations of immigration laws, according to judicial sources. Nearly 100,000 Indian migrants attempted to enter the United States illegally in 2023, according to US Customs and Border Protection.

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