Route between Dubai and Managua More than a dozen unaccompanied minors on the plane blocked in France for alleged human trafficking

Several unaccompanied minors are among the 303 passengers of Indian nationality on the flight between the United Arab Emirates and Nicaragua blocked since Thursday at an airport in France, due to suspicions of human trafficking, a local civil protection organization said this Saturday

Route between Dubai and Managua More than a dozen unaccompanied minors on the plane blocked in France for alleged human trafficking

Several unaccompanied minors are among the 303 passengers of Indian nationality on the flight between the United Arab Emirates and Nicaragua blocked since Thursday at an airport in France, due to suspicions of human trafficking, a local civil protection organization said this Saturday.

"There are 13 unaccompanied minors, as well as accompanied minors," the civil protection of Marne, where Vatry airport is located, about 150 km east of Paris, told AFP.

The age of the minors ranges "from a 21-month-old baby to a 17-year-old teenager," the same source specified.

This figure of 13 unaccompanied minors was not confirmed by the authorities.

An Airbus A340 of the Romanian company Legend Airlines has been blocked since Thursday afternoon at the Vatry airfield on suspicion of human trafficking, following an "anonymous complaint", according to the Paris prosecutor's office.

In principle, the device only had to make a stopover to refuel, on its way between Dubai and Managua.

The 303 Indian passengers on the flight are still in the airport's reception facilities this Saturday, an AFP journalist confirmed.

The police and gendarmerie carried out "identity checks on the 303 passengers and crew" and are carrying out "interrogations and verifying the conditions and purposes of the transportation of the passengers," he said.

Two of them were arrested on Friday, according to the prosecutor's office. It is being investigated "if there are indications that support suspicions" of human trafficking.

"All crew members were questioned and allowed to leave freely, and to return home if they wish," Liliana Bakayoko, a lawyer for the airline, said Saturday.

The crew was made up of thirty people: 15 for the Dubai-Vatry route and 14 or 15 for the Vatry-Managua connection, he explained.

A source close to the investigation indicated that the passengers, probably Indian workers in the Emirates, intended to go to a Central American country to try from there to head north and enter the United States or Canada irregularly.

A police cordon blocks access to the airport and a row of white tarps hides the window of the arrivals hall, an Afp journalist confirmed.

"The company considers that it has nothing to blame itself, that it has not committed any infraction and puts itself at the disposal of the French authorities," said Liliana Bakayoko, who presented herself as a lawyer for Legend Airlines.

The department's civil protection told Afp that it installed beds and showers at the airport and that since Thursday night it had mobilized a dozen volunteers, who have been taking turns to accompany the passengers.

Local authorities indicated that the passengers spent the night from Friday to Saturday at the airport.

"The embassy team has been granted consular access. We are studying the situation and ensuring the well-being of the passengers," the Indian embassy in France stated on the X social network.

French law determines that if a foreigner arrives in France by plane and is denied boarding to his or her destination country, he or she may be detained in a waiting area for up to four days.

This period can be extended by eight days by a judge and another eight in exceptional circumstances. Depending on the resources presented, the maximum stay in the waiting area is 26 days.

Human trafficking is a crime punishable in France with a sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of three million euros ($3.31 million).

According to the specialized website Flightradar, Legend Airlines is a small company that has a fleet of four aircraft, including two A340-313.

The small Vatry airport received about 62,000 passengers in 2022, mainly on flights of low-cost companies, according to the Union of French Airports.