A plane grounded in France for days over concerns it was part of a human trafficking scheme landed in India Tuesday, with its passengers avoiding media questions as they quickly exited bustling Mumbai airport.
The Airbus A340 initially had been bound for Nicaragua when it was detained last Thursday at Vatry airport, east of Paris, where it had stopped for refuelling.
It had arrived from the United Arab Emirates and was halted after an anonymous tip-off that it was carrying potential victims of human trafficking.
Of the original 303 people on the passenger list, 276 were on the plane that arrived in Mumbai before dawn on Tuesday.
Passengers began walking out onto the concourse four hours later but refused to speak to a large crowd of waiting journalists and covered their faces to shield their identities.
It was unclear whether the arrivals were questioned by authorities and India’s government has yet to issue a statement on their return.
Among those staying behind in France were two people questioned by police there over suspected people trafficking.
A judicial source said they were released after it was established the passengers had boarded the plane of their own free will.
French authorities are continuing to investigate the case for a potential violation of immigration laws, but no longer for people trafficking, judicial sources said.
Another 25 passengers sought asylum in France including five minors, local officials said.
A source close to the inquiry told AFP that those aboard were likely workers in the UAE bound for Nicaragua, which they intended to use as a staging post for journeys to the United States or Canada.
Authorisation for the plane to leave France came after a court ruled that any further detention of three of its passengers would be illegal.
The passengers of the flight, operated by Romanian company Legend Airlines, were put up at Vatry airport during the investigation.
Beds, toilets and showers were installed, the local prefecture said, while police prevented press and outsiders from entering the airport.
The passengers included 11 unaccompanied minors, according to Paris prosecutors.
The Indian embassy in Paris posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Monday that it was grateful for the “quick resolution” of the incident.
The 30 crew members were not detained. Some had handled the Dubai-Vatry leg while others were to take over for the flight to Nicaragua.
The use of charter flights to aid migrants “is a relatively new phenomenon”, Manuel Orozco, director of migration issues at the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue, told AFP last month.
Orozco said he believed that airline operators and Nicaraguan airport authorities made “an economic calculation” for their “mutual benefit”.
Indian deputy foreign minister V. Muraleedharan this month told parliament that close to 100,000 illegal Indian migrants had attempted to enter the United States this year, citing US Customs and Border Protection data.
Last year the issue caught public attention when four Indians froze to death while trying to cross into the United States on foot from the Canadian border.
They were among a group of 11 people attempting the journey, with the remaining seven detained by US authorities.
Many Indian migrants seek passage to the United States for economic reasons.
But human rights experts say there are several other factors at play, including the oppression of minority communities in India and extreme visa backlogs.
Unlawful Indian migration abroad is such an established phenomenon that it forms the backdrop of the Bollywood comedy-drama “Dunki”, released in cinemas last week.
Starring Shah Rukh Khan, one of India’s most bankable film stars, “Dunki” delves into the various means by which Indians attempt the perilous journey to the West with the help of unscrupulous agents and corrupt border officials.