Italy says 4,000 boat migrants have made landings "non-stop" along its shores or have been rescued by ships over the past two days. Interior Minister Angelino Alfano has urged the EU to "take the situation in hand."
Italy said on Wednesday that bids by thousands of boat migrants to cross the Mediterranean from northern Africa had become "glaring" with many more waiting in Libya.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said that two merchant ships had rescued two boatloads carrying 300 and 361 people early on Wednesday. At least one dead body was discovered on board, he said.
Alfano demanded that the EU do more than just hand funds to its border agency Frontex.
"There are death merchants who profit from this human trafficking and who send out requests for help just 30 to 40 miles after leaving the Libyan coasts," Alfano said.
Policy overhaul awaited
Late last year, Italy began a naval operation to spot migrant boats in transit after more than 400 migrants from Eritrea and Syria perished just off Italy's southern-most island of Lampedusa.
That tragedy prompted calls for an overhaul of European migration and asylum policies, which culminated at an EU-Africa summit in Brussels last week in joint promises to try new approaches.
The EU and the African Union said they would "upscale efforts" to tackle "irregular migration" by focusing instead on development and education in Africa, combined with crackdowns on people traffickers.
Migrant advocacy groups estimate that between 17,000 and 20,000 migrants have died at sea while trying to reach "fortress Europe" in the past 20 years.
Alfano estimated that so far this year 15,000 migrants had been rescued.
An estimated 1,000 have already reached Spain in the first three months of this year crossing from Morocco into two Spanish enclaves in northern Africa - Melilla and Ceuta.
Migrants from central and western Africa converged on Morocco and then tried to scale the enclaves' high barbed-wire fences, often enduring deep cuts to their hands and feet.
"As long as there is such a big difference in wealth and there are problems in Africa, there will always be immigration," said Adil Akkid of the Moroccan Assocation of Human Rights.
Last week, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for "greater commitment" to deal with pressure on Ceuta and Melilla.
Once on European territory, would-be migrants face repatriation or often long procedural waits if they apply for asylum.
ipj/msh (dpa, AFP, AP)