European Union leaders placed a bet on Libya's fragile government to help them prevent a new wave of African migrants this spring, offering Tripoli more money and other assistance to beef up its frontier controls.

Meeting in Malta - in the sea lane to Italy where more than 4,500 people drowned last year - the leaders addressed legal and moral concerns about having Libyan coastguards force people ashore by pledging to improve conditions in migrant camps there.

"If the situation stays as is now, in a few weeks we will have a humanitarian crisis and people will start pointing fingers, saying Europe has done nothing," said Joseph Muscat, the prime minister of Malta, which currently holds the presidency of the bloc.

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