‘Trafficking case’ | Nicaragua flight: 85% passengers men aged 18-40 yrs | India News

    ‘Trafficking case’ | Nicaragua flight: 85% passengers men aged 18-40 yrs | India News

    Young men up to 40 years made 85 per cent or the bulk of the total 303 passengers on board the Nicaragua-bound Legend Airlines chartered flight. Of the total passengers, 286 or over 93 per cent were adults (18-plus); as many as 285 were men.

    The flight returned to Mumbai Tuesday morning from Vatry airport in France, where it was grounded after authorities in Paris received an anonymous signal alleging “human trafficking”.

    According to details of the passengers shared by sources in the Punjab government with The Indian Express, while 211 passengers were in the 18-30 age bracket, 59 were in the 31-40 age group. Just 15 passengers were 40-plus, and another 18 were minors (under 18 years of age).

    Sources in Punjab Police said about 70 per cent of passengers appeared to be from Punjab, given their surnames and second names. The next big group of passengers was from Gujarat. Police sources in Gujarat said, while close to 65 persons were from their state, the police has identified only 21 as of now. Some from the state may have stayed back in France, seeking asylum, they said.

    The Punjab government is preparing a report on exactly how many Punjabis were on board the aircraft chartered from Bucharest-based carrier Legend Airlines, and investigate how they were taken abroad. “I have sought a report. We are also finding out if the travel agent, who was facilitating their travel, was from Punjab. We will investigate and take action against travel agents employing illegal means to send youths abroad,” Punjab’s NRI Affairs minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal told The Indian Express.

    Festive offer

    Sources in Gujarat Police said at least 21 passengers from Gujarat returned to their home state on Wednesday. These passengers, as well as their relatives, will be questioned by the state CID to ascertain their involvement in the alleged immigration racket as well as to identify the agents who had promised them a passage to the US. These passengers belong to Banaskantha, Mehsana, Gandhinagar, Anand and Patan districts, said a police officer.

    The CID was “working closely” with central agencies probing the case of possible illegal immigration to the US or Canada. The CID has formed four teams, led by deputy superintendents of police, to probe the case, in which at least six agents are possibly involved, officers said.

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    “We are currently zeroing on these 21 people… the number is likely to go up. We are verifying the remaining people on board the flight and are waiting for official confirmation from the immigration department (if there were more passengers from Gujarat)…,” Superintendent of Police (CID) Sanjay Kharat told The Indian Express.

    “Through primary investigation and technical analysis, we are trying to ascertain if there was a common point of contact for them. They had boarded the chartered flight from Fujairah to Nicaragua to proceed to Mexico and then to the US using the donkey route…,” Kharat said.

    “Teams of the CID will reach out to them to get details of their travel. We will verify if the documents they were travelling on were genuine and who helped them get to the flight… So far, no agent has been identified… We will question the passengers to ascertain if they were given false promises by the agents… The agents involved in the scam will be booked,” he said.

    Meanwhile, the Mehsana district police had earlier conducted a search within its jurisdiction to look for Kiran Patel, an agent whose name had cropped up in the case. Patel, a native of the district, is a known operator in illegal immigration and is believed to now be based in Ahmedabad, officers said. However, he has remained untraceable since the flight was grounded in France.

    Sources in the Punjab Police said, there are several surnames like Khaira, Randhawa, Sanghera, Sidhu, Sohal, Sran, Waraich, Randhawa, Grewal in the passenger list — these are either from Punjab or Haryana. “If names are any indication, 70 per cent of passengers seem to be from Punjab. A number of women have ‘Kaur’ as their second name. Also, a number of men have ‘Singh’ as their second name,” a source said.

    “We are waiting for information from the Union Ministry of External Affairs since its officers are in touch with France, where a probe is on. Those who landed in Mumbai on Monday were also questioned. The information is yet to come to us,” said a Punjab Police officer.

    Nicaragua has become a popular destination for those seeking asylum in the US. As many as 96,917 Indians attempted to enter the US illegally in the financial year 2023, signalling a 51.61 per cent jump from the previous year, according to data made available by the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). At least 41,770 of those Indians attempted to enter the US via the Mexican land border, CBP data shows. Flights to Nicaragua or third countries where obtaining travel documents is easy have come to be known as dunki (donkey route) flights.

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