The plight of migrants in the Mediterranean requires a “comprehensive response”, NATO’S head Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday, adding that the alliance would help by trying to stabilise countries in the region.
“We have to be united to tackle this crisis,” he said during a visit to Lisbon.
His comments came a week after a shipwreck off the Libyan coast left more than 750 people dead.
NATO’s role in stabilising countries like Afghanistan was part of the broader approach to the refugee problem in the Mediterranean, Stoltenberg said.
“This is not only about northern Africa. We know the people trying to cross the sea come from as far as Asia, Afghanistan or the Middle East.”
Last week, European Union leaders agreed to triple funding for the bloc’s maritime search-and-rescue operation as part of a plan to deal with the spike in migrants undertaking the perilous Mediterranean journey to Europe.
The EU is also considering possible military action against people smugglers.
Stoltenberg welcomed the EU’s decision to increase its presence at sea, adding that human trafficking was the “main problem”.
More than 1,750 migrants have died in shipwrecks this year — 30 times more than the same period in 2014.
Many of these people are smuggled in on boats from Libya, which has long been a transit country for African migrants.
The flow has intensified since the toppling of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, as militias turn to the lucrative business of human trafficking.
People fleeing violence in the Middle East, especially in Syria, are also using Libya as a transit country.
“We are ready to cooperate with Libya as soon as the security situation allows,” Stoltenberg said after a meeting with Portuguese Foreign Minister Rui Machete.