ROME - Italy has rescued about 4,000 immigrants trying to cross the Mediterranean by boats to reach its shores in the past two days, the interior minister said Wednesday, calling the crisis "increasingly glaring".
"The landings are non-stop and the emergency is increasingly glaring. Right now two merchant ships are rescuing two boats with 300 and 361 people aboard.
It appears there's at least one corpse on board," Interior Minister Angelino Alfano told public radio Rai Uno.
Alfano estimated that 15,000 migrants had been rescued so far this year.
He said between 300,000 and 600,000 migrants were ready to set off from Libya on the perilous journey, "a low estimate which has been confirmed by European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem".
"Europe must take the situation in hand. It cannot say that, having given 80 million euros (S$137 million) to Frontex, the problem has been resolved," he said, referring to the European Union's border control agency.
"There are death merchants who profit from this people trafficking and who send out requests for help just 30 to 40 miles after leaving the Libyan coasts," he said.
Italy began a navy operation called "Mare Nostrum" (Our Sea) - a Latin reference to the Mediterranean - after more than 400 migrants from Eritrea and Syria perished in twin tragedies off Italian shores in October 2013.