Saying a maritime force will contribute "critical information and surveillance to help counter human trafficking and criminal networks," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced that the alliance has ordered ships to the Aegean Sea, a focal point for smuggling migrants and refugees from Turkey to Greece.

The mission will include both naval ships and aircraft and will start "without any delay," Stoltenberg said.

In the Aegean, the Standing NATO Maritime Group's mission will not be "about stopping or pushing back refugee boats," Stoltenberg emphasized at a news conference in Brussels on Thursday.

NATO's defense ministers agreed to the step, Stoltenberg says, with the goal of both limiting crimes such as human trafficking and preventing the loss of life in the refugee crisis. Earlier this week, more than two dozen people died when their ship capsized shortly after embarking from Turkey's coast.

In the first six weeks of 2016, more than 76,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe by crossing parts of the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration, which adds that more than 400 people have died on those routes.

"The daily average of nearly 2,000 arrivals is nearly 10 times the daily average of a year ago," according to IOM.

Stoltenberg said that in addition to the new step, NATO will continue trying to "address the root causes" that have prompted millions of people to leave countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria to seek better lives in Europe.

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