French judges to decide on extending stay of 303 passengers, mostly Indians, of grounded flight | India News – Times of India

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PARIS: Four French judges on Sunday began questioning the 303 passengers, mostly Indians, of a Nicaragua-bound flight detained by French authorities at Vatry airport, 150 km east of Paris, since Thursday over suspected “human trafficking“, according to local media reports. “The judges have the authority to extend the detention order being used by border police by eight days initially and for another eight if required. They have two days to complete speaking to the passengers. The judges are being helped by translators,” said a report in ‘Le Monde’ newspaper.
According to the French media, some of the passengers spoke Hindi and others Tamil and are believed to have contacted their families by telephone. Ten of the passengers have requested asylum, the newspaper quoted a source close to the case as saying.
The plane includes 11 unaccompanied minors and two passengers in custody since Friday had their detention extended on Saturday evening for up to 48 hours, according to French prosecutors.
The aircraft is owned by Romanian charter company Legend Airlines. A lawyer for the firm, Liliana Bakayoko, denied any involvement in the trafficking.
A “partner” company that chartered the plane was responsible for verifying the identity documents of each passenger, and communicated the passengers’ passport information to the airline 48 hours before the flight, Bakayoko said.
Human trafficking carries a potential sentence of up to 20 years in France.
On Saturday, India’s embassy in France said its staff are stationed at the airport near Paris to ensure the welfare of Indian nationals after the passengers were detained by French authorities over suspected “human trafficking”.
In an updated message on social media on Saturday evening, the embassy thanked the French authorities for working over the long Christmas holiday weekend in pursuit of an “early resolution” of the situation.
Earlier, the embassy said it had received consular access to its citizens after the plane that took off from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was grounded at the Chalons-Vatry airport in Marne during a “technical halt” on Thursday.
“Continue to work with the French Gov for the welfare of the Indians currently at the Varty airport, 150 km East of Paris, & for early resolution of the situation,” reads the Indian Embassy post on its official X handle.
“Embassy consular staff stationed there. Thank French authorities for working on this through the long holiday weekend,” it said.
It followed an earlier post, which read: “French authorities informed us of a plane w/ 303 people, mostly Indian origin, from Dubai to Nicaragua detained on a technical halt at a French airport. The embassy team has reached & obtained consular access. We are investigating the situation, also ensuring the wellbeing of passengers.”
The judges will decide whether or not to keep in the waiting area of the airport the passengers of the flight, BFM TV, a French news broadcast television and radio network, reported.
Francois Procureur, lawyer and president of Chalons-en-Champagne, said: “I don’t know if this has already been done in France.”
French border police can initially hold a foreign national for up to four days if they land in France and are prevented from travelling on to their intended destination, the television network reported.
French law allows that period to be extended to eight days if a judge approves it, then another eight days in exceptional circumstances, up to a maximum of 26 days.
“It is urgent since we cannot keep foreigners in a waiting zone for more than 96 hours. Beyond that, it is the judge of freedoms and detention who must rule on their fate,” François said.
The airport reception hall has been transformed by prefectural decree into a waiting area for foreigners.
Among the passengers are 11 unaccompanied minors, and according to the broadcaster, six of them have already taken steps to request asylum in France.
Those requested for asylum in France will have to be interviewed and they will be told whether or not they can benefit from political refugee status, the news network quoted Francois as saying.
According to the reports, the travel may have been planned by the Indian passengers to reach Central America from where they can attempt to enter the United States or Canada illegally.
But an anonymous tip indicated that passengers were “likely to be victims of human trafficking” in an organised gang, alerted the authorities.
The investigation, carried out by the National Jurisdiction for the Fight against Organised Crime (JUNALCO), aims to “verify whether any elements would corroborate” suspicions of human trafficking, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office.
On Thursday, two people, passengers, were taken into police custody to “verify and corroborate the suspicion of trafficking in human beings by an organised gang”, a crime punishable by twenty years of criminal imprisonment and three million euros in fines.


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