European Union leaders are to discuss taking military action against Mediterranean people-smugglers at an extraordinary summit held today (23 April) in Brussels.
A draft statement leaked to AFP ahead of the meeting said that the undertaking of "systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy" traffickers' ships before they are used will be on the negotiations table.
EU President Donald Tusk urged the 28-nation bloc "to agree on very practical measures," such as "strengthening search-and-rescue possibilities, by fighting the smugglers and by discouraging their victims from putting their life at risk, while reinforcing solidarity".
Country leaders are also seeking agreement on doubling the size of the European border agency effort in the Mediterranean, as the current mission, known as Triton, is considered too small to cope with the tide of asylum seekers expected to attempt the crossing from Northern Africa in the coming months.
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.
According to estimates, more 200,000 migrants have successfully reached Europe via boat 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.
The meeting was called after up to 950 would-be-refugees died in a single incident at the weekend, as their boat crashed with a rescue vessel and capsized off Libya's coast.
On the eve of the summit Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said the country was "at war with traffickers".
Explaining Rome's stance to lawmakers at the Parliament ahead of the meeting, he said the EU should set up refugee camps in countries bordering with Libya to stop asylum seekers before they reach Mediterranean shores.
"We are asking Europe to be Europe, not just when it's time to devise a budget," he said.
Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti added that a coordinated military effort against human smugglers must also be launched to stop the deadly flow.
"We know where the smugglers keep their boats, where they gather," Pinotti told Sky TG24 TV. "The plans for military intervention are there."
"We think it's the moment in which Europe decides, forcefully, to have an international police operation, which will undo this band of criminals," Pinotti added.
Meanwhile, the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration urged the EU to begin a sea rescue operation for migrants and accept significantly more refugees.
According to Reuters, a joint statement co-signed by International Organization for Migration chief William Lacy Swing, U.N. special representative for migration Peter Sutherland and U.N. human rights and refugee agency heads Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein and António Guterres said:
"The European Union response needs to go beyond the present minimalist approach... which focuses primarily on stemming the arrival of migrants and refugees on its shores."