Italy and Libya reach agreement over Mediterranean migrant crisis

Italy and Libya have reached an agreement designed to try and stop migrants from setting off from Libya in an attempt to reach European shores, ahead of a European Union summit on defence and the migrant crisis.

Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni told reporters that the deal is "just a piece" of a wider plan that will be discussed at the summit, and that the EU must make an "economic commitment" to ensure the success of the Libyan-Italian plan.

The agreement between Libyan premier Fayez Serraj and Mr Gentiloni calls for more support for the Libyan Coast Guard and the "humanitarian repatriation" of migrants, with a possible economic deal in the pipeline.

Although the EU already has a military presence in international waters off Libya, moving inside its maritime border would have a bigger impact on catching smugglers attempting to cross the sea.

European Council president Donald Tusk said the deal had already been discussed with German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande, with leaders agreeing to support the memorandum.

"Europe should and will stand by Italy in sharing responsibility," he said.

In 2016, some 364,000 migrants reached Europe using two main sea routes to Italy and Greece, according to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex.

In the same year, at least 5,083 people died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, according to figures from the International Organisation for Migration.

Mr Tusk said that the EU summit could pave the way for humanitarian action to save the lives of poor people attempting to reach Europe who have no chance of being granted asylum status in the continent.

He wants EU members to take a tougher stance and break smuggling rings to curb migrants' dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean, because "this 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".

"This goal is within our reach," he said on the eve of the summit.