Feb. 3 (UPI) -- European Union leaders in a Malta meeting proposed supporting the Libyan coast guard through training and equipment, and increasing actions against human smugglers in efforts to curb an inflow of migrants.
Human smugglers have been using Libya, which has a split government and no nationwide security apparatus in place, as a gateway to smuggle people from various African countries to Europe following a deal between the EU and Turkey, once the gateway, to tackle the migrant crisis.
Italy's coast guard on Thursday said more than 1,750 migrants had been rescued in the Mediterranean Sea within 24 hours. More than 180,000 migrants reached Italy last year, while about 5,000 died along the way.
The EU has a military presence in the Mediterranean Sea in the international waters off the coast of Libya but EU leaders have proposed increasing that support to find and shut down existing human smuggling routes.
"The status quo is unacceptable and something has to be done, this is why we want to train the Libyan coast guard and engage with communities inside the country," a EU diplomat said in Malta.
EU leaders in Malta also want humanitarian repatriation of migrants whose asylum requests have been rejected and improved conditions for migrants. Prior to the Malta meeting, EU Council President Donald Tusk said breaking up human smuggling operations and stopping dangerous sea travel "is the only way to stop people dying in the desert and at sea, and this is also the only way to gain control over migration in Europe."
Fayez al-Seraj, Libya's leader who leads a fragile U.N.-backed government, on Thursday met with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni to sign a bilateral agreement to increase cooperation and to fight against human smuggling.
"If we want to give real strength and legs to managing migration flows, then there needs to be an economic commitment by the whole of the EU," Gentiloni said Thursday.