Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday urged EU leaders to focus on stopping criminal gangs from trafficking migrants, pledging to send a British naval ship and an armed helicopter to bolster NATO forces in the Aegean Sea.

"This migration crisis is the greatest challenge facing Europe today," Cameron said ahead of an EU leaders' summit in Brussels on the migration crisis.

Cameron will urge the summit to focus on "breaking the link between getting on a boat and getting resettlement in Europe by smashing the trafficking gangs and increasing the return of illegal migrants," his office said.

He will call for support for Turkey in coping with an influx of refugees from Syria and help for Greece to "accelerate the processing of migrant claims and return illegal migrants to their countries of origin."

"Britain has not faced anywhere near the scale of migrants coming to Europe as other countries because we are out of Schengen and retain control of our borders," Cameron said.

"But where we can help, we should," he said. "And we've got to break the business model of the criminal smugglers and stop the desperate flow of people crammed into makeshift vessels from embarking on a fruitless and perilous journey."

Britain will send the Mounts Bay naval landing ship and a Wildcat helicopter deployed to join the NATO operation in the Aegean, he said.

He said the mission provides "an opportunity to stop the smugglers and send out a clear message to migrants contemplating journeys to Europe that they will be turned back."

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