The United Nations began bringing African refugees to Italy from Libya on Friday, evacuating them from detention centres whose conditions have been condemned by humanitarian groups as inhumane.

An Italian C-130 military plane landed at an airport south the capital carrying 110 women and children, and a second flight is expected to bring more than 50 people later in the day.

The African migrants, including many small children, were covered in blankets or bundled in coats as they disembarked from the plane on a chilly evening.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) classifies Friday’s arrivals as “vulnerable” refugees, which means they are children, victims of abuse, women, the elderly or have disabilities.

It is the first time the UNHCR in Libya has evacuated refugees directly to Europe. They plan to evacuate between 5 000 and 10 000 people in 2018.

Italy’s move to open a safe corridor for some of the migrants follows criticism by rights groups who have condemned the country’s efforts to block migrants in Libya in exchange for aid, training and equipment to fight smuggling.

”I think that this should be a point of pride for all Italians that we managed to intervene in a particularly difficult situation like the Libyan one and having managed to bring to safety women, mothers and children, having been able to welcome refugees after having rescued them from the smugglers of human beings.”Interior Minister Marco Minniti told reporters on the tarmac.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants have fled conflict or poverty at home and are now trapped in Libya, where they had hoped to pay people smugglers for passage to Europe via Italy.