BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union countries must provide more funds and resources or set up a multinational border guard if they want the EU to tackle migration in the Mediterranean, the trade bloc's top migration official said Wednesday.

"We need to pool more resources from member states. We need to greatly enhance our capacity," EU migration chief Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters as he unveiled plans for a new EU policy toward immigration.

Criticism of the EU border agency Frontex is mounting as migrants die or are rescued trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya in decrepit boats.

But Avramopoulos said that "Frontex is not a European border guard system. If we want one, we would have to create one."

More than 173,000 people were rescued in the Mediterranean last year, but at least 3,500 have died.

Italy's Coast Guard, Navy and commercial ships ferried 1,000 migrants and refugees toward the safety of southern Italian ports Wednesday after several boat rescues.

Italy wound down a search and rescue operation in December due to high costs and because its ships were seen as a potential magnet for migrants wanting to reach Europe.

A smaller EU operation, Triton, was launched in November but its prime task is border management and it only conducts rescue work if it is close to any boat in distress.

In the face of criticism, the idea of an EU border guard operation is gaining ground.

"We have to think much more about a common system of European border guards," said Matthias Ruete, head of the EU's migration and home affairs office.

But a border guard scheme is contentious. Many countries are reluctant to surrender control of their borders to an EU agency, and not all members function in the same way.

The coastguard in Malta — another country on the migration front-line — is run by the military, which could complicate any effort to have a common EU border guard force.