The EU has agreed to use planes, boats and drones to disrupt people smuggling from north Africa to Europe.
The first phase of the multi-national naval operation will focus on "surveillance and assessment" of the criminal networks that enable the dangerous Mediterranean crossings but later stages of the mission could involve military action against the smugglers.
But ministers warned a UN Security Council resolution would be needed before later stages of the operation could begin.
Almost 900 migrants and refugees have died since January 1 this year, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency - almost 53 times as many as the 17 who died during the same period last year.
These stark figures come in the aftermath of a shipwreck which killed as many as 400 African migrants making the dangerous crossing between Libya and Italy this week.
The UNHCR today said it was "deeply shocked" at this latest tragedy, while a forthcoming report from Amnesty International shows a continued rise in the number of migrants and refugees making the trip as the weather improves, and violence and instability continues in countries like Libya, Syria and Eritrea.
As the Home Office is urged to accept more refugees from the Syrian civil war, ITV News hears the story of one young family who escaped.Read the full story ›
The head of the Refugee Council has called on the government to increase the number of resettlement places it offers to refugees.
Refugee Council chief executive Maurice Wren said Britain has a proud tradition of protecting refugees and it must increase the opportunities afforded to those attempting to flee persecution.
The UK and wider EU can and should increase the number of resettlement places they provide.
Resettlement is a vital protection tool for refugees whose lives and liberty are at risk; a long term solution for refugees and an expression of solidarity with developing countries who host the majority of the world's refugees.
We must do all we can to help. For some children, a resettlement place in the UK would give them their first ever night's sleep on a mattress in a real bed, access to running water and simply, the hope of a better future.
The whole of the European Union offers 5,500 resettlement places each year, significantly less than the USA or Australia, according to the UN.
- EU member states offer 5,500 places
- Out of the EU, Sweden offers the most: 1,900 places
- The UK offers up to 750 places per year
- The United States offers 70,000 places
- Australia offers 20,000 places
- Canada offers 7,100 places
The Refugee Council is calling for the government to increase the number of places it provides to refugees fleeing persecution from across the world.
On the 10th anniversary of the UK resettling refugees under the UN's Gateway Protection Programme (GPP), the Refugee Council has urged the Government to do more to help vulnerable people.
Under the GPP system, the UK accepts up to 750 refugees from around the world every year for resettlement.
The Home Office said it has accepted more than 3,000 individuals under the GPP scheme since 2010.
ITV News has heard the accounts of two Syrian families who could be among the vulnerable refugees admitted to Britain.Read the full story ›
David Cameron has been accused of "political posturing" after the Government confirmed plans to accept "several hundred" of the most vulnerable refugees from the Syrian conflict in a bid to head off a damaging backbench revolt.
The change of heart by the coalition - confirmed by Home Secretary Theresa May in a Commons statement ahead of an opposition day debate on the issue - was broadly welcomed by MPs on all sides of the House.
Tory backbencher Andrew Bridgen said Britain had already donated £600 million - more than the rest of the EU put together - and that admitting a few hundred people would make little difference to such a vast refugee crisis.
"It is pure political posturing and tokenism. I think that people can see the political expediency of the u-turn," he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.
The UN Refugee Agency in the UK has welcomed the Government's plans to provide refuge to the "most vulnerable" Syrians.
In a statement to the House of Commons, Home Secretary Theresa May said the UK would not be signing up to a quota scheme because "we want to focus our assistance on the most vulnerable people".
UNHCR's Representative to the UK, Roland Schilling, said: "We welcome the announcement of the UK government to provide refuge to some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees, in cooperation with UNHCR.
“This decision will help to provide much needed solutions for vulnerable Syrian refugees many of whom have been deeply traumatised and face immense hardship.
"It is also a concrete and important gesture of solidarity and burden sharing with the countries neighbouring Syria as they continue to bear the brunt of the refugee crisis."
Home Secretary Theresa May has outlined the Government's plan to help the most vulnerable Syrians find safety in the UK.
She told the House of Commons: "Our country has a proud tradition of providing protection to those in need. And where there are particularly difficult cases of vulnerable refugees, who are at grave risk, we are ready to look at those cases."
She added: "The Government will be launching a new programme to provide emergency sanctuary in the UK for displaced Syrians who are particularly vulnerable."