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Italian PM: 'Chaos' of Migrant Crisis Threatens to Engulf Europe

President Donald Trump greets Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni as he arrives at the West Wing of the White House in Washington, April 20, 2017.

Europe desperately needs short-term solutions to the migrant crisis, Italy's prime minister warned Thursday, saying a failure to act would further destabilize the region.

Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said long-term efforts by Europe and the West to address root causes eventually could pay off, but without more urgent action, Europe will be engulfed by what he described as "waves of chaos" from across the Mediterranean Sea.

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"Too many Europeans have been living under the illusion that they could separate their destiny from the Mediterranean and from the crises originating from this region," Gentiloni told an audience in Washington ahead of a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. "This was a mistake."

"The task that governments have in Europe is to defeat smugglers and traffickers and manage the migration flow now, in the next months," he said.

Gentiloni said he planned to push Trump to keep the United States focused on the crisis, both during their Thursday meeting at the White House and during the Group of Seven summit of industrialized countries in Italy in May.

Attention to Libya

The Italian leader said his country's top priority continued to be Libya, the source or transit point for 97 percent of the migrants arriving on Italy's shores.

"Stabilizing Libya is fundamental," Gentiloni said. He cautioned that the North African country could turn into a "new theater for competition of external powers, both regional and global, which is a risk."

The prime minister called U.S. leadership in such an effort essential, and also called on other players, like Russia, to help pressure the various bickering factions to support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord.

He warned that a failure by the parties to come together could create openings for the Islamic State terror group, which has seen its forces in Libya reduced substantially following a sustained U.S.-led air campaign.

Gentiloni also urged the U.S. and other world powers to "please keep Africa on top of our agenda," saying various conflicts and crises in sub-Saharan Africa had helped fuel the migrant crisis.

"We can't consider Africa as the second Chinese continent," the Italian prime mister said, noting Beijing's increasing role in providing aid and spurring development. "We should do perhaps our part more strongly."