Italy’s prime minster has outlined plans which could see people smugglers responsible for deaths and serious injuries receive extended prison terms.
Giorgia Meloni unveiled the proposals which could see smugglers receive terms of up to 30 years in prison.
Ministers also agreed on measures that would improve legal routes for foreign workers arriving in Italy.
The proposals came during a cabinet meeting near the site where 72 migrants died in a shipwreck last month.
Ms Meloni insisted she was determined to defeat human trafficking at the meeting in the Calabrian town of Cutro.
“Our response to what happened is a policy of greater firmness on the ground,” she said, adding that Italy would act against human traffickers on the boats and those in third countries who organised the trips.
The government has denied responsibility for the disaster, but Ms Meloni said that more improved and legal routes had to be opened up to allow migrants to safely reach the country.
“I believe that another way to fight human traffickers is to send out the message that it does not pay to enter Italy illegally,” she said.
Separately, she said countries who helped educate their citizens about the risks of using criminal networks to head to Italy would get preferential quotas for legal migrant workers.
Protesters threw cuddly bears at passing cars as the ministers were driven to the cabinet meeting in Cutro on Thursday. Some held up signs reading “They could have been saved”.
Ms Meloni’s right-wing government has faced criticism over the disaster in February, with questions raised over whether more could have been done to prevent it.
Most of those on the wooden vessel, thought to have carried 200 people, were said to be from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
The ship is thought to have sunk after it crashed against rocks in rough weather, while trying to land near Crotone.
Officials said said 72 bodies have been recovered and another 79 people survived, but around 30 are still missing.