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Europe mulls military force against people traffickers

CNBC update: Video of migrant crisis

European Union (EU) leaders are meeting on Thursday to discuss measures to tackle the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean and could announce the use of military force to fight the growing problem of human trafficking.

An EU official told CNBC that there would be a number of announcements after Thursday's summit in Brussels, after which a press conference is expected in the evening.

One option that could be announced, the official said, was the use of "civil or military force to destroy the infrastructure used by human traffickers, such as their boats."

A boat transporting migrants arrives in the port of Messina after a rescue operation at see on April 18, 2015 in Sicily.
Giovanni Isolino | AFP | Getty Images

Thousands drowning

This summit comes in response to the deaths of thousands of would-be migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, as they to travel by boat hoping for a new life in Europe.

Most lately, around 800 people drowned over the weekend after their boat capsized on its way to Europe, with only 28 survivors, according to the Italian coast guard.

On Monday, there were reports of two more similar shipwrecks.

The boats used by migrants are often overcrowded and unseaworthy. It is estimated that 1,727 aspiring migrants have died this year alone, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Read MoreThe big migrant wave to Europe will be hard to stop

Working with North Africa, Yemen

The EU official said that military action could involve working with countries in North Africa and the Middle East, like Yemen and Libya, where humanitarian disasters and conflict have caused a rise in human trafficking.

He added that the prospective measures would be based on "what we can do quickly in the short-term."

The AFP news agency has reported seeing a draft statement for the summit that commits leaders to "undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers."

Sea surveillance

The EU summit is expected to build on a ten-point plan on migration drafted on Monday at a meeting of European foreign and interior ministers.

Further plans could include "doubling" the resources available to border agency Frontex and its surveillance programs, Operation Triton and Operation Poseidon.

As well as more resources, the EU official said there would be an emphasis on "greater solidarity" within the EU, with countries required to cooperate in dealing with the influx of migrants. This reflects that those southern European countries, like Italy and Greece, that are most affected by the migrant crisis are also struggling economically.

In addition, the official said the EU might announce a "rapid return program" on Thursday. This would be coordinated by Frontex and that would only affect economic migrants or "irregular migrants."

Search-and-rescue criticism

The shipwrecks have prompted criticism of the EU, with some saying the rise in migrant deaths are a direct consequence of the curbing in resources for search-and-rescue missions.

Italy ended its "Mare Nostrum" maritime patrol program last October and the EU's Triton program that replaced it is primarily based on coastal border control rather than search-and-rescue missions.

Tellingly, while Mare Nostrum had a budget of 9.5 million euros ($10.2 million) a month, Triton's monthly budget is estimated to be 2.9 million euros.