Matteo Salvini, whose crackdown on migrants fleeing Libya aboard smugglers' boats inflamed tensions across Europe, was on hand at Rome's Pratica di Mare military base Wednesday as the men, women and children disembarked from a flight from Niger. He tweeted that "welcoming children who are truly escaping war, as I did this morning in Rome, is a pleasure," adding that they are different from economic migrants who he believes should be expelled from Italy.
The 51 migrants were identified by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees as deserving of international protection and were flown out of Libya to Niger pending relocation.
Greek authorities say 18 people were hospitalized after the latest in a string of often fatal road accidents involving vehicles smuggling migrants through northern Greece.
Police say a van driven by a suspected migrant smuggler and crammed with another 46 people veered off a road and crashed near the northeastern town of Didymoteicho overnight Wednesday.
Police say the migrants, who included several children, were Syrians, Iraqis and Palestinians.
Didymoteicho is very close to the border with Turkey, from which thousands of migrants enter Greece illegally every year hoping to move on to Europe's prosperous heartland.
Most pay criminal gangs to smuggle them into Greece and to drive them from the border to Thessaloniki, some 450 kilometers (280 miles) further west.
The European Union's border agency says 2018 is likely to see the lowest number of unauthorized migrant arrivals in five years.
Frontex said Wednesday that around 118,900 irregular border crossings were recorded in the first 10 months of the year, around 31 percent lower than the same period a year ago.
Despite the steadily dropping numbers, EU member states are still bickering over how best to handle the arrivals and the dispute continues to fuel anti-migrant political sentiment across Europe.
Frontex notes that while entries are declining, the number of people reaching Europe across the western Mediterranean Sea — mostly via Spain from Morocco — continues to rise.
The agency says that nearly 9,400 people crossed in October, more than double the same month last year.