A group of 162 "vulnerable" refugees were flown directly from Libya to Italy on Friday for the first time, a day hailed as "historic" by Interior Minister Marco Minniti.

"For the first time a humanitarian corridor has been opened from Libya to Europe. It's a start," Minniti said, adding: "Today is a historic day."

Those evacuated came from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen. They comprised families, single mothers, unaccompanied children and handicapped people, who were flown on a military jet.

Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR's special envoy for the central Mediterranean, said: "For the first time, we have been able to evacuate extremely vulnerable refugees from Libya directly to Italy.

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