Italy is planning to send warships to help Libya's coast guard combat smugglers who have transported thousands of migrants to Italian shores.
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said Thursday that the move could be a "turning point'' in the migrant crisis that has gripped Europe for months.
This year alone, 100,000 migrants from Africa, South Asia and the Middle East have arrived in Italy, a 7 percent rise from the same period last year. More than 2,000 others have died attempting the treacherous voyage.
With the foundering of a European Union plan to redistribute thousands of migrants rescued at sea and brought to Italy, Gentiloni said his center-left government would brief lawmakers next week about Libya's request for Italian navy vessels to patrol its Mediterranean shores.
Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Serraj, who leads a U.N.-backed unity government based in Tripoli, met in Rome with the Italian leader on Wednesday and asked for the assistance. Gentiloni said his government was working out the details of a naval mission.
Military ships from European nations, vessels organized by aid organizations and commercial cargo ships frequently pick up men, women and children making the perilous Mediterranean Sea crossing. Lately, most of those rescued at sea have been economic migrants from African nations unlikely to win asylum.
The migrant crisis has stoked tensions between Italy and the rest of the European Union, which has been reluctant to share the burden of the migrants flowing into Italy, even though most of the migrants wish to resettle in other European nations.