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In an apparent attempt to exploit the current crisis in the Mediterranean for political gain, an Italian lawmaker with Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right party has claimed that migrants risking their lives crossing via boat from Northern Africa are actually paid to "invade" Europe.

As EU leaders were discussing plans to prevent further sea tragedies after hundreds of asylum seekers drowned off Libya's coast, Daniela Santanché took to the airwaves to broadcast her conspiracy theory.

"I wonder where these people find the money to pay human smugglers," she told SkyTg24, commenting on reports that migrants pay between $400 and $1,500 (£270 and £1,015) per head for a passage to Europe. "I suspect many of them are paid because they want them to come to Italy to invade and conquer us."

The Forza Italia MP didn't elaborate on who she thought was behind the costly invasion plan, although she is known for her inflammatory Islamophobic rhetoric.

Just hours after a boat carrying up to 950 would-be-refugees capsized on its way to Italy, killing almost everyone on board, she claimed that the only way to stop the immigration flow was to sink all migrant boats. "It is better [committing] an act of war than losing the war," she said.

Her controversial remarks, which included praise of Libya's late dictator Muammar Gaddafi ("he was able to organise his people") came at a time where Forza Italia is losing votes to the right-wing Northern League party that adopts a similar populist, xenophobic rhetoric.

Northern League firebrand leader Matteo Salvini recently argued that migrant boats should not be allowed to disembark and be forcibly kept off Italian shores instead.

He also called for Italian city mayors to refuse to host reception centres.

Both Salvini and Santanché are among a number of European politicians trying to gather support off the back of the migrants emergency, stirring nationalistic and anti-immigration rhetoric at home.

Earlier this week, France's Marine Le Pen attacked former President Nicolas Sarkozy, accusing him of being the source of Europe's current troubles due to his prominent role in the launch of a 2011 Nato air campaign to stop Gaddafi's deadly crackdown on Arab Spring protesters.

Le Pen claimed that the "frightening" illegal immigration numbers coming out of Libya were the direct result of the UN-backed military operation.

She went on to suggest that aid to asylum seekers should be cut and warships deployed in the Mediterranean to escort smuggler vessels back to their port of origin in order to stop migrants dreaming of a better life in Europe.

In March, the EU's border agency chief warned up to one million people are expected to attempt crossing the Mediterranean from Libya before the end of 2015.

More than 200,000 migrants have successfully done so over the past 15 months. Another 5,000 are believed to have died trying, of which 1,700 perished in the first four months of 2015 only.

Survivors' accounts and video evidence have revealed that, after paying an initial price for the travel, migrants are often detained and tortured by traffickers willing to extort more money from their families at home.