A majority of those trying to cross the Mediterranean are economic migrants seeking a better life and not those fleeing for their lives, UK Immigration Minister James Brokenshire has told a EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee.

Programmes to relocate the immigrants in Europe will only exacerbate the crisis, he warned.

Brokenshire was replying to a question on the government's stand when "people are fleeing for their lives".

Almost 137,000 refugees arrived in Europe in the first half of 2015, with Italy and Greece, the entry points, bearing the brunt of the crisis. Over 1800 have lost their lives in risky crossings.

A recent UNHCR report released cited persecution and conflicts as the main cause of the exodus.

The UK has opted out of a EU scheme to distribute and relocate the refugees, and instead focuses on checking illegal crossings into the country.

Brokenshire said: "In terms of the mix of people who are seeking to make that journey, our estimate is that the majority of those are probably economic migrants, rather than those who are fleeing persecution or some sort of civil conflict."

Appearing at the House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee, Brokenshire said the government is in agreement with the European agenda on a number of issues but was opposed to compulsory relocation because it only deals with the symptoms of the problem, and not its cause.

He said: "Where we do take issue is the emphasis that is given to relocation and that side of the agenda where we have said that it should be for member states to determine."

He pointed to the secondary flows of migrants to other countries that would inevitably take place.

Brokenshire also called attention to how trafficking gangs were exploiting people with false promises, saying such relocation only plays into their false narratives.

Criticising his comments, Refugee Council chief executive Maurice Wren said: "The immigration minister's sweeping judgement that the majority of people arriving on Europe's shores from some of the world's biggest refugee-producing countries are economic migrants is utterly startling.

"The Government must stop looking for flimsy excuses to justify dealing with this humanitarian crisis at arm's length."