The UK overseas aid budget should be used to stabilise countries and discourage mass migration, the defence secretary has said.
Speaking to the BBC, Michael Fallon said “well-focused aid” could “prevent conflict breaking out… so that we don’t have to fish people out of the Mediterranean later on”.
EU states should also pool intelligence on trafficking gangs, he said.
More than 1,800 migrants have died in the Mediterranean so far this year.
That is a 20-fold increase on the same period in 2014.
Britain has not signed up to proposals from the European Commission to redistribute tens of thousands of asylum seekers who have arrived in Italy and Greece to other countries.
Mr Fallon told The Andrew Marr Show mass migration was a “European problem” and so far only the “symptoms” were being dealt with.
“I think we can pool the intelligence we all have as European countries on these trafficking gangs, we can get more information on the roots, we can tackle their financing,” he said.
“And we can use our overseas aid budget – and this is where it should be used – to help stabilise some of these countries and discourage this kind of mass migration from them.
“Well-focused aid should be used to help stabilise these countries, to prevent conflict breaking out.”
The UK government has sent Royal Navy warship HMS Bulwark to the coast of Libya to aid search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean.
Mr Fallon said the warship had saved nearly 3,000 lives.
But he added: “There has got to be a much more comprehensive approach tackling the problem much further back, dealing with the trafficking gangs, building up information about the people who are making money out of this incredibly dangerous journey.”
Earlier this week, EU ministers failed to agree to a plan that would involve the equal distribution of asylum seekers across all 28 EU states.
While some EU members, including Germany and Austria, back the quota idea, others argue migrants should not be forced to move to countries where they do not want to settle.
The UK, Denmark and Ireland have exemptions from the quota plan.
Much of the mass migration has come from Libya where there has been conflict since 2011, following the ousting and death of former leader Muammar Gaddafi.
There is currently no ruling power in the country, although the UN is leading attempts to establish a unitary government.
Mr Fallon said it was important a political settlement was reached in Libya soon so that there was an official government the UK could work with, enabling migrants to be returned.
“We have to break the link between rescuing people from the Mediterranean and settlement because they’ll keep coming if they think they’re going to be settled.”
Asked whether the EU could consider a naval blockade of the northern coast of Africa, Mr Fallon said: “That is a matter for Europe to look to see… It is a very long coast.
“That is a difficult operation. I think what is more important is to pool the intelligence we have to go much further back in Africa.”