A group of migrants has reached Italy via a 'humanitarian corridor' aimed at bringing people from camps in Libya to safety in Europe. The corridors are an initiative of the Italian and Libyan governments together with the United Nations and the Italian Bishops Conference.
A total of 162 women and children disembarked in Italy from the belly of a C130 military aircraft, wrapped up against the cold. Just 12 hours earlier, they had been in one of Tripoli's detention centers for irregular migrants.
They were granted safe passage to Italy through the first so-called humanitarian corridor from Libya, part of an accord between the Italian and Libyan governments, the UN and the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI).
The migrants were chosen for passage by the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, based on their highly fragile condition.
Freed from Libyan centres, integration in Italy
"Since the start of the year, we have made 995 visits in the centers and we have managed to free 1,200 people," said UNHCR's Libya Director, Roberto Mignone.
"But we think that in the next year, these numbers will
rise, and we will manage to evacuate from Libya between 5,000 and 10,000 people
in fragile condition," he said.
The Italian and Libyan governments agreed on the corridor so that migrants would be able to reach Europe safely by plane, rather than paying thousands of dollars to smugglers and risking death at sea.
Once in Italy, the migrants will be registered under the national protection system for asylum seekers and refugees (SPRAR), and will be hosted throughout the country. All of the migrants have been granted international protection status.
Previous humanitarian corridors have allowed more than 1,000 Syrian refugees to reach Italy.
"This is just the start"
Welcoming the group of migrants from Libya, Italy's Interior Minister, Marco Minniti, described it as an historic day.
"For the first time, thanks to the
extraordinary work of many people, a legal humanitarian channel has been opened
from Libya to Europe," Minniti said.
Minniti thanked both the Libyan government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and CEI, which he said "started the initiative" and brought it forward with the Italian government.
"We managed to bring women and children to safety, removing them from human traffickers. Today, Italy has written a wonderful page of solidarity and welcoming.
"This is just the start. We will continue to work with UNHCR according to the principle that we've always supported: fighting illegality to build true legality," Minniti said.In an interview with Italian daily La Repubblica, Minniti said that in 2018, up to 10,000 refugees will be able to reach Europe without risks, while 30,000 migrants without the right to asylum (according to the objectives of the International Organization for Migration) will be able to return home with voluntary repatriations (this year 18,000 have already done so).