Plane carrying Eritreans leaves Italy for Sweden under new EU migrants plan
An Italian police aircraft carrying 19 Eritreans has taken off from Rome's Ciampino airport bringing the first refugees to Sweden under the European Union's new resettlement programme.
The scheme is aimed at redistributing asylum seekers from hard-hit receiving countries.
The aircraft carrying the refugees was bound for Kallax Airport in Lulea, in the far north of Sweden.
Italian interior minister Angelino Alfano, who was on hand to bid the Eritreans farewell, said the transfer is proof that Europe has finally changed its migration policy.
Italy for years has demanded Europe shoulder more of the burden of the continent's refugee crisis.
Even though most migrants prefer to pass through Italy en route to destinations further north, Mr Alfano has been keen to show off the first flight to try to quieten anti-immigrant critics at home.
The Swedish immigration agency said the migrants have a chance of being granted asylum.
Eritrea, an authoritarian north-east African country, is one of the major origins of people trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
The Eritreans, 14 men and five women aged 25 to 40, represent the first of 160,000 people expected to be resettled throughout Europe as part of the EU's new redistribution programme. They smiled and waved as they climbed up the stairs to the aircraft as officials from the UN refugee agency and Red Cross waved and bid them farewell from the tarmac.
Mr Alfano said at least 100 more refugees from Italian centres would be resettled in Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere in the coming weeks.
He was joined by EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and Luxembourg's foreign minister at a farewell ceremony at Ciampino. Later they will travel to the tiny island of Lampedusa, ground zero for Europe's migration crisis, where the first of a series of screening centres is to open to identify would-be asylum-seekers.
The centres are to be set up in Italy and Greece, where most of the tens of thousands of people trying to make their way to new lives in Europe first land after often-dangerous boat trips across the Mediterranean from Libya and Turkey.
They are intended to establish whether people are fleeing conflict or violence and have the right to asylum or some other form of protection, or whether they have come to Europe in search of jobs and better lives.
The Eritreans will arrive at Lulea's Kallax airport, close to the Arctic Circle, where they will be met by staff from Sweden's immigration agency. After registering and staying a couple a few days, they are likely to be assigned to refugee housing in the Ostersund area.