British police are working with North African countries to smash the gangs trying to smuggle hundreds of thousands of migrants into Europe.
Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick is boosting ties with countries like Tunisia and Algeria to try to stop illegal crossings into Italy.
Italian officials fear more than 400,000 migrants will arrive illegally in their country this year, four times as many as the previous 12 months.
The Home Office fears that will have a knock on impact on the small boats crisis as the arrivals make their way across Europe.
Mr Jenrick, who is on a tour of north Africa and Europe to meet counterparts, said: “We’re taking the fight to the people-smuggling gangs upstream to help prevent dangerous and unnecessary journeys long before migrants are within reach of the UK.”
“Just as we’ve deepened diplomatic and security co-operation on illegal migration with France, Italy and Albania, we are working to enhance our cooperation with other key transit and source countries for migration to tackle this shared challenge.”
“It is right that we use all the assets of the state to disrupt, degrade and deny gangs at source.”
The National Crime Agency will cooperate with forces in the nations to stop the people traffickers.
Officers will share intelligence and expertise to tackle the criminal gangs and will have access to evidence that can help shut down other parts of their networks.
Mr Jenrick is visiting Tunisia and Algeria and will also meet Libyan officials, though in a neighbouring country as it remains too volatile to visit.
Last month, more than 200 people drowned in 10 days after attempting to cross from Tunisia to Italy.
It has become the main point that crossings are made into Europe from north Africa, with parts of the coastline only 93 miles from Italian island Lampedusa.
Tunisia is also facing an economic meltdown that is expected to fuel the number of crossings.
Mr Jenrick will also go to Italy, where he will meet prime minister Giorgia Meloni, before holding talks with ministers in Paris.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made tackling the UK’s small boats crisis one of his top five priorities.
A deal struck with Albania in December after a surge in the number of men illegally entering the UK has led to more than 1,000 nationals being returned so far.
Britain is also paying almost £500m over three years to help France stop migrant crossing in the Channel.
Some of the money will be used to set up a new detention centre in France and the number of patrols on French beaches will also increase.
Conservative MP James Daly, a member of the Home Affairs select committee, said: “Stopping migrants crossing the Channel is vital, we cannot allow people to breach our borders and jump the queue by arriving on small boats.”
“But stopping people entering Europe illegally in the first place is the key to solving this problem.”
“This government is right to work with Italy and north African countries to tackle this issue at the source.”
The Government’s Illegal Migration Bill will give ministers powers to send asylum seekers who arrive in Britain illegally to their home country or a third nation, such as Rwanda.
Ministers also hope the legislation will cut the daily £5.5 million cost of housing migrants who make it to the UK.
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