The Gujarat high court has directed an external affairs ministry (MEA) official to connect with the embassies in France, Dominica and the Indian high commission in Port of Spain to locate nine persons, who went missing in February while trying to travel to the US illegally.
Acting on a PIL filed by relatives of three of those missing, the bench of Chief Justice Sunita Agarwal and Justice Aniruddha Mayee asked the Centre’s counsel whether efforts to locate them had yielded results. The court was shown a communication from the French authorities at St. Martin in the Caribbean, which said these nine persons were supposed to come to St. Martin according to information from their families. They were located once in Dominica, but their more recent whereabouts could not be ascertained. It was also revealed that one Sudhir Patel had been found in Guadeloupe on February 7, but his recent whereabouts were unknown.
Considering the information received by an Indian high commission official in the Caribbean, the court observed that the apprehension is that these nine are either stuck or detained on certain islands in the Caribbean, which are overseas territories of France. The bench ordered the MEA joint secretary to coordinate with all the authorities concerned “to locate the nine Indian citizens who are missing since February 3.” The court sought a report on action taken in this regard by September 18.
The PIL sought the HC’s intervention and directions to the Indian authorities to help find the missing persons so that they can be brought back. The court was told that Ankit Patel, Kiran Patel, Avani Patel, Sudhir Patel, Pratik Patel, Nikhil Patel, Champa Patel, Dhruvrajsinh Vaghela and Bharat Rabari had set out for St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands without valid visas on January 9. Their family members last spoke to them on February 3, when they were believed to be in the French territory of Guadeloupe.
Six days later, the Guadeloupe government told the MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre) in India about the arrest of Indian citizens.
However, the relatives’ desperate efforts to contact them did not yield results. They suspect that the nine had set out from Dominica for St Thomas but did not reach their destination.