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Plane grounded over trafficking suspicions to leave France

The plane was carrying over 300 Indian passengers and bound for Nicaragua. It was detained after an anonymous tip-off that its passengers included potential human trafficking victims.

A Nicaragua-bound plane carrying 303 Indian passengers will be allowed to leave on Monday, after being detained in France over human trafficking suspicions.

The Airbus A340 was carrying 303 passengers from the United Arab Emirates, when it stopped on Thursday at the Vatry airport in eastern France to refuel. It was detained after an anonymous tip-off that its passengers included potential human trafficking victims.

The passengers included children and families. The youngest passenger is a toddler of 21 months, and among the children are several unaccompanied minors, according to French authorities.

After the flight was grounded, its passengers were first kept on the aircraft but were then transferred to the terminal building. 

Local officials, medics and volunteers installed beds, and ensured regular meals and showers for those held at the airport.

What happened with the investigation?

After two days of questioning the passengers, French prosecutors approved the departure of the plane on Sunday. The local prefecture said in a statement that a full departure approval is expected on Monday.

The plane is operated by Romania-based charter company Legend Airlines.

Liliana Bakayoko, a lawyer for the company, told the Associated Press news agency that they hoped the plane could head to Mumbai, India, on Monday ''with as many passengers as possible.''

She estimated around 280 passengers should be able to leave.

She added that the 15 crew members were released on Saturday following questioning, and that the airline denied any role in human trafficking.

Were they traveling to the US?

Authorities said they have detained two passengers since Friday "to verify" whether their role "may have been different than the others in this transport, and under what conditions and with what objectives."

Twelve of the passengers have requested asylum, the French AFP news agency reported citing an unnamed source close to the case.

Prosecutors didn't comment on what kind of trafficking was alleged, or whether the passengers' ultimate destination was the United States. 

There has been a surge in Indians entering the US illegally from Mexico this year. 

Indian citizens were arrested 41,770 times while attempting to illegally enter the US from Mexico in the US government's budget year that ended September 30, more than double from 18,308 cases the previous year. 

Source: Dw

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