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Britain Ready To Send Boats To Turkey In Fight Against People-Smugglers

It's not all about David Cameron's deal at Thursday's summit in Brussels.

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David Cameron is gearing up for a crunch summit of EU leaders on Thursday that will make or break his dreams of reform. But there is something else on the agenda too – the refugee crisis engulfing Europe.

The prime minister is poised to offer boats, helicopters, and personnel to help in a NATO mission aimed at deterring people-smugglers from taking migrants on dangerous crossings from Turkey to Greece.

NATO warships were ordered to the Aegean Sea last week to carry out surveillance and gather information on the criminal gangs exploiting thousands of migrants.

Cameron is ready to redeploy a Border Force cutter – a small sailing vessel – that is already in the area and possibly provide an extra one with maritime helicopter capability, a government spokesperson said.

He is also willing to provide more liaison officers from the National Crime Agency (NCA) to work with coastguards in Turkey. Some NCA officers are already working in areas across Turkey but they are not out with coastguards.

The discussion on the refugee crisis is scheduled for 8pm during a "working dinner" following talks on the renegotiation over Britain's relationship with the EU.

Around 2,000 people are now arriving on Greek shores every single day, fleeing the brutal civil war in Syria and unrest elsewhere in the Middle East. Most arrive in Greece seeking to head to more prosperous European countries further north.

More people arrived in Greece in the first four days of February 2016 than they did in the whole of February last year, the government spokesperson said. More than 400 people have died so far this year while crossing the sea in rickety boats.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg insisted last week that the mission was not about "stopping or pushing back refugee boats" but about deterring people-smugglers from operating.

Emily Ashton is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Emily Ashton at emily.ashton@buzzfeed.com.

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