More than 150 migrants have been flown to Rome from Libya for the first time.
The country’s interior minister has pledged to bring another 10,000 by plane next year to save them from being trafficked.
Two Hercules aircrafts transported 162 migrants, mostly women, children and the disabled, were flown to Italy’s capital after being released from detention centres where beatings and torture happen frequently.
By opting to airlift refugees, Italy is able to minimise the number of dangeous Mediterranean crossings desperate migrants embark on. It also enables officials to vet migrants in camps before bringing them into the country.
The passengers of these first flights were chosen by UN staff visiting detention centres in Libya that hold African migrants who have travelled north only to fall into the hands of traffickers.
Nearly 1,000 visits had been made this year, according to Italian officials.
Marco Minniti, the Italian interior minister, who was at Ciampino airport to meet the migrants, said: “This is a historic moment because we have created the first humanitarian corridor to save migrants given refugee status by the UN from the clutches of criminals.”
“For the first time, we have been able to evacuate extremely vulnerable refugees from Libya directly to Italy,” Vincent Cochetel, an official for the United Nations high commissioner for refugees.
The arrival of migrants in the country has become a key campaign issue, with increasingly popular right-wing parties encouraging hostility to African migrants.
Austria has seen a similar backlash following a generous acceptance of migrants and now has a far-right party in government.
Earlier this year footage appeared to show migrants from sub-Saharan Africa who had attempted to cross the Mediterranean being sold in Libya as slaves.