ROME, Oct 9 — Italy sent a first group of Eritrean asylum seekers to Sweden today as part of a European Union relocation plan aimed at easing the burden on border states amid the continent’s biggest migrant crisis since World War Two.
The 19 men and women who made a perilous journey across the desert and the sea to seek shelter in Europe lined up on the runway of Rome’s Ciampino airport wearing light jackets, smiling and taking selfies before boarding a state plane.
European migrant commissioner Dmitris Avramopoulos and Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano escorted them to the aircraft taking them to an airport near the Arctic Circle where temperatures dipped below freezing overnight.
More than half a million people have poured into Europe this year fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, prompting bitter disputes between member states about how to react and how to share out the responsibility.
The EU plans to relocate a total of 160,000 refugees from the frontline states of Greece and Italy over two years.
“Today is a day of victory for Europe,” Alfano told reporters as the jet lifted off the runway. Some 100 other asylum seekers will be sent to countries including Germany and Holland in coming weeks, he said. — Reuters