Italy airlifts refugees from Libya as criticism mounts

Italy is organizing a first airlift of refugees from Libyan detention centers after coming under international criticism for helping the Libyan coast guard block migrants from leaving by boat.

The Interior Ministry said the migrants are due to arrive later Friday in Rome. Interior Minister Marco Minniti and the head of the Italian bishops' conference, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, are to welcome them.

A ministry statement said the group included vulnerable refugees — women, children and the elderly — who are entitled to international protection.

Italy and the EU have come under criticism from human rights groups for helping the Libyan coast guard more effectively patrol its coasts to prevent smugglers from operating. The groups say the policy has condemned refugees to torture and other inhuman treatment at the hands of Libyan militias.