Italy has introduced controversial new measures to stop migrants from reaching Europe, including sending warships to Libyan waters and drawing up a set of rules that must be followed by NGOs that rescue migrants from the Mediterranean.

Italy has borne the brunt of new arrivals since the implementation of an agreement between the European Union and Turkey to curb the flow of migrants sailing for Greece. Around 95,000 people reached Italy this year, adding to the half a million who arrived over the three previous years.

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Refugees and migrants in a small rubber boat wait to be rescued by crew members from the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) Phoenix vesselChris McGrath/Getty Images

On Wednesday (2 August) Italy's parliament authorised a plan to send two naval vessels to Libyan waters. It initially hoped to send six ships into Libyan territorial waters, but the plans had to be scaled back following protests from Tripoli. Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti said the vessels would only provide technical support and would not infringe on the north African country's sovereignty.

Amnesty International criticised the plan, saying that dispatching warships to aid the Libyan coast guard was "a shameful attempt to circumvent the rescue of migrants and refugees".

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Refugees and migrants swim towards an MOAS rescue boat after a wooden boat bound for Italy carrying more than 500 people capsized on 24 May 2017Chris McGrath/Getty Images
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Migrants try to stay afloat after falling off their rubber dinghy during an MOAS rescue operation some 15 nautical miles off the coast of Zawiya in Libya on 14 April 2017Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters
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A woman sitting in an MOAS rescue boat cries after losing her baby in the water on 24 May 2017Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Charity boats have become increasingly important in rescue operations, picking up more than a third of all migrants brought ashore. Italy fears the NGOs are facilitating people smuggling by hovering close to Libya, waiting for the migrant boats to cross into international waters where they can be picked up.

The Italian government has introduced a code of conduct for the NGOs and has demanded that armed police travel on their boats to help root out eventual people smugglers. Only three out of eight humanitarian groups operating in the southern Mediterranean agreed to the Italian terms.

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Refugees and migrants wait to be transferred from another NGO rescue ship to the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) Phoenix on 10 June 2017Chris McGrath/Getty Images
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A Somali woman carries her 12-day-old baby after being rescued by MOAS from a wooden boat in the Mediterranean on 15 April 2017Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters
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A member of the Aquarius rescue ship run by NGO SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres holds a girl after she was recovered with others in the MediterraneanAngelos Tzortzinis/AFP
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A migrant boards a ship after being rescued by Save the Children off the coast of Libya on 17 June 2017Stefano Rellandini/Reuters
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A man prays onboard the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) Phoenix vessel en route to Italy on 10 June 2017Chris McGrath/Getty Images
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Rescued refugees and migrants huddle on board the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) Phoenix vessel on 25 May 2017Chris McGrath/Getty Images
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Rescued refugees and migrants stand on the deck of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) Phoenix vessel as they approach ItalyChris McGrath/Getty Images
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Two men aboard the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) Phoenix vessel look out at southern Italy as they arrive at the port of Reggio Calabria on 12 June 2017Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Italy did not spell out the consequences for those that did not sign its new code of conduct, but on Wednesday 2 August, the Italian coastguard halted a boat operated by German NGO Jugend Rettet, which had refused to sign. The vessel was searched and then escorted to port, while the crew IDs were checked.

More than 2,200 people have lost their lives this year while trying to make the crossing from North Africa, making the Mediterranean the most dangerous border crossing on the planet for migrants and refugees.

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Dead bodies lie in a damaged dinghy off the coast of Gharaboli, east of Tripoli on 10 June 2017Ismail Zitouny/Reuters
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A deflated and half-sunken rubber dinghy of the sort used by migrants is seen from the MOAS ship Phoenix in international waters off the coast of Tripoli on 13 April 2017Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters
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The bodies of migrants lie on a boat after being recovered by the Santa Lucia merchant ship off the Libyan coast, on 1 August 2017. Some 500 survivors were pulled to safetyAngelos Tzortzinis/AFP
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Body bags containing migrants who died at sea are seen on the deck of the Aquarius rescue ship, run by SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres on 1 August 2017Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP
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Members of the Libyan Red Cross collect a body that washed up on the coast of Tajoura, east of Tripoli, on 27 June 2017Ismail Zitouny/Reuters
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Members of Libya's Red Crescent recover the body of a migrant that washed ashore in Tajura, a suburb of Tripoli, on 28 June 2017Mahmud Turkia/AFP
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Members of the Italian Red Cross prepare coffins for the 34 migrants that died at sea on 24 May 2017Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Italy wants migrants picked up by the Libyan coast guard or its ships and returned to Libya, not taken to Italy. Currently, migrants who reach international waters are taken to Italy because Libya is not considered safe for refugees, and returning them there would be a violation of international law.

The Libyan coast guard returns migrants to detention centres where they are held indefinitely in "inhuman" conditions, according to the United Nations. Rescued migrants have told Italian authorities and humanitarian organisations about torture, rape, forced labour, beatings and other atrocities they suffered in Libyan camps. Italy wants UN agencies to bolster their presence there and to operate migrant camps that respect human rights.

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Illegal migrants from Africa are taken to a detention centre after being picked up by the Libyan coast guard on 8 July 2017Mahmud Turkia/AFP
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Illegal immigrants lie on thin mattresses on the floor of at a detention centre in Zawiyah, 45 kilometres west of the Libyan capital Tripoli, on 17 June 2017Taha Jawashi/AFP
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Migrants who were detained while trying to get to Europe sit on the ground at a detention camp in Gheryan, outside Tripoli, on 1 December 2016Hani Amara/Reuters
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People who were picked up while trying to get from Libya to Europe look out from the barred door of a hut at a detention camp in Gheryan, outside Tripoli on 1 December 2016Hani Amara/Reuters

Italy is due to hold national elections by next May, with voting widely expected in early 2018, and the migrant issue is expected to top the political agenda. Rightist parties have accused the centre-left government of doing nothing to halt the influx.

The influx of more than a million people in 2015 boosted up support for populist, nationalist and Eurosceptic parties across the EU. These groups make a link between immigration from the mainly-Muslim Middle East and Africa and the rise in Islamist attacks in Europe.