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EU Seeks UN Approval for Strong Action on Migrant-Smugglers

Migrants crowded in an inflatable dinghy await rescue by the Italian coast guard’s vessel Denaro off the Libyan coast, in the Mediterranean Sea, Wednesday, April 22, 2015. European Union leaders have promised more aid to help stem the tide of migrants and

The European Union is seeking a U.N. Security Council resolution within days to allow aggressive action to hunt down people-smugglers in the Mediterranean and destroy their boats, a senior EU official said Tuesday.

The official said that EU foreign ministers hope to have a resolution by their Monday meeting "to ensure that we can have coercive action towards the smugglers and the traffickers" who risk migrants' lives to bring them to Europe's shores.

The official has close knowledge of the operation planning process but is not permitted to speak publicly about it.

Some 10 countries have signaled their interest in taking part, the official said. Britain, France, Poland and Spain are likely to provide ships or planes, while Slovenia has also expressed interest.

The EU's plan has proved controversial, with both Russia and Libya — the jumping-off point for many people fleeing conflict and poverty for better lives in Europe — expressing concerns about the plan.

If a resolution arrives in time, the ministers could give formal legal approval for the operation to go ahead. A headquarters and force commander could be chosen quite quickly, the official said. The operation's formal launch would probably be announced by EU leaders at their summit in Brussels in late June.

More than 170,000 illegal border crossings were recorded through the Mediterranean last year, mostly Syrians and Eritreans leaving via Libya. Around 1,700 are feared to have died in recent weeks, yet the high season for sea migration does not start till June.

Around 185,000 asylum-seekers were granted protection status in the EU last year — a 50 percent rise over 2013, according to new figures released Tuesday by the EU's statistical agency.

More than one in three was Syrian, while Eritreans and Afghans were also accepted in large numbers.

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