ROME - Italy’s coast guard said Tuesday 1,569 migrants had been rescued in 11 separate operations in the Strait of Sicily, as a wave of boats departing from the Libyan coast intensifies.

The “Diciotti” vessel came to the rescue of four inflatable dinghies and a boat, bringing a total of 774 people to safety, including 125 women and five children, the coast guard said in a statement. Meanwhile, three Italian navy ships rescued over 660 migrants in various operations while a German military ship picked up another 105.

Close to 1,500 people were rescued in the Mediterranean over the weekend, adding to fears that calmer seas at the onset of spring is encouraging greater numbers of migrants to attempt the perilous crossing after a winter lull. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), some 17,500 people have arrived in Italy since the start of the year. Moreover, Greece will be able to process asylum claims within two weeks once a migration deal between the EU and Turkey takes full effect, a senior Greek official said Tuesday. Deputy defence minister Dimitris Vitsas, who is in charge of coordinating Greece’s management of the refugee flow, said that all procedures pertaining to asylum requests would be sped up and examined within the space of a fortnight.

“Asylum requests will have to be examined within a week — and there is international help for this purpose — and administrative appeals will be examined within another week,” Vitsas told a late-night political talk show on Star TV. The fast-tracked procedure will be formalised as part of a refugee bill to be submitted to parliament on Wednesday, he said.

Rights groups have consistently highlighted serious deficiencies in Greece’s asylum process that prevent refugees from submitting asylum requests. Even when a request has been submitted, the application process can take months before a decision is made.

Some 4,000 security personnel and asylum experts — many provided by fellow EU states — are to be deployed to registration centres known as hotspots on the five Aegean islands facing Turkey to handle the application requests.

Vitsas said there are currently 53,000 refugees and migrants in Greece, compared to 30,000 in late February before Balkan states began shutting their borders. He said all those who entered Greece after a new EU migration deal with Turkey began to take effect on March 20, and whose asylum applications are not accepted, will be returned to Turkey on six ships chartered by EU border agency Frontex.

Should the process work smoothly, some 20,000 people are expected to eventually stay in Greece for an unspecified time, a task the country can “easily manage,” the deputy minister said. The government said it expects the EU-Turkey deal to be fully implemented from April 4. Aid groups have criticised the agreement on ethical grounds, warning that registration sites would now become de facto detention centres.