This handout picture released on April 8, 2014 by The Marina Militare shows rescuers of the Italian Navy helping refugees to climb on their boat near the Italian port of Pozzallo, south of Sicily. AFP PHOTO / MARINA MILITARE
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Italy said Wednesday that 4,000 immigrants have reached its shores by boat in the past two days -- the highest number since it launched a naval operation to rescue them at sea in the wake of two shipwrecks last year.Alfano estimated that 15,000 migrants crossing the Mediterranean had been rescued so far this year and said up to 600,000 migrants from Africa and the Middle East were ready to set off from Libyan shores.Italy reported a 60-percent increase in asylum claims last year -- mainly people fleeing the war in Syria -- although the number of arrivals is still lower than in the wake of the Arab Spring revolts in 2011 .Italy began its naval operation "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 .
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