EU Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said Libyan coastguards, who are funded by European money and use Italian boats, are turning back increasing numbers of vessels operated by traffickers.
He also told MEPs that the UN’s migration arm, the International Organisation for Migration, has helped a further 8,478 migrants in Libya “to return safely to their countries of origin”.
Meanwhile Estonia’s Europe minister Matti Maasikas revealed that arrivals into Europe have dropped by almost 70 per cent since the height of the crisis and are now running at just under 2,500 a month.
The pair unveiled the new figures during a debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg about the issue of illegal migration brought forward by far-right Italian politician Matteo Salvini.
Brussels has brought forward a series of high—profile proposals to bring irregular migration under control after the issue became a major flashpoint in recent elections, fuelling a populist surge.
The recent EU Council summit focussed extensively on the protection of the bloc’s external borders with all member states agreeing that more needs to be done to bolster controls.
EU leaders have struck a controversial deal with Turkey which has reduced the numbers of asylum seekers reaching Greece to a trickle, and are now seeking similar arrangements with many North African countries.
And they have also announced a multi-billion pound “Africa trust fund” which will provide authorities in countries of origin with cash to police their own borders and fight against people smuggling gangs.
Addressing MEPs, Mr Dombrovskis said: “The fight against irregular migration and people smuggling is and remains one of the key features of our comprehensive migration policy.
“We all know that while the irregular flows towards Europe and overall decreasing we have to remain vigilant.
“We will continue to fight this ruthless business in order to save lives to prevent irregular migration and to provide protection for those in need.”
Meanwhile, Mr Maasikas said that of a £36 million fund pledged to the Libyan authorities earlier this year to help them tackle migration £27 million has been spent on “training equipment and maintenance needs for the coastguard”.
He said: “Our aim is to ensure an effective control of our external borders and stem illegal flows into the EU. We’re determined to break the business model of smugglers and reduce the high number of human beings losing their lives while crossing the Mediterranean in unseaworthy boats and flimsy dinghies.
“We have taken a number of measures to reduce the irregular migratory flows, to break the business model of smugglers and human traffickers and to advance the effectiveness of returns.”
The debate was brought forward by populist Mr Salvini, who leads the far-right Northern League party in Italy, which is currently polling at around 15 per cent ahead of next year’s election.
He told the chamber that NGOs operating rescue missions in the Mediterranean are colluding with people smugglers – a claim they forcefully deny – and accused eurocrats of “doing nothing” to solve the crisis.