Human traffickers need to be combated, border surveillance needs to be boosted and deportations must be stepped up, argued EU and North African leaders as they concluded a summit aimed at shutting down the migration route from Libya to Europe.

Migrant traffickers used that route to ferry 181,000 people last year, according to the summit's final statement. More than 4,500 died or went missing in the attempt,

"We want to try to create common ground between Europeans and North Africans," said German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere before the start of the meeting of the Central Mediterranean Contact Group. The states involved must try to stop migrants from "travelling via Libya," de Maiziere said.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that 15,852 migrants had reached Italy across the central Mediterranean route as of March 15, while 481 died in the crossing.

Migrant traffickers "are the main beneficiaries of this activity" and countries must work together to "dismantle their business model," the Group said in its final statement, which also called for more border protection and the speeding up of repatriations.

In February, Italy signed deals with Libya and Tunisia to fight people traffickers and clamp down on borders.

The Contact Group is made up of Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, plus Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, and Switzerland, according to the Italian Interior Ministry.

Italy is a key entry point for migrants striving to reach Europe, because its southernmost islands are the first European land mass for vessels setting off from North Africa.

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