ITALY REFUGEES MIGRATION, boat, libya.jpg
Photograph: EPA/YARA NARDI / ITALIAN RED CROSS / HANDOUT

More than 2,700 people were rescued and 15 bodies were recovered following 23 rescue operations in the central Mediterranean, the Italian coastguard said Monday in the latest update on the world's most dangerous sea migration route.

Some 19 dinghies and four small boats were intercepted in the stretch of water between North Africa and Sicily, the Guardia Costiera said in a statement.

The coastguard added that it was joined in rescue operations by the navy, the EU naval mission against migrant smuggling (Eunavfor Med), and vessels run by charities MOAS, Sos Mediterranee and Jugend Rettet.

The Italian navy said it had recovered six dead migrants in a statement released earlier in the day.

Malta-based MOAS said in its own statement that it picked up seven bodies and 354 survivors "in one of the most challenging rescues [it has] ever conducted" this year. 

As rescuers approached a dinghy packed with migrants, "panic broke out aboard the vessel in distress, which resulted in many people, several of whom could not swim, jumping or falling into the water," MOAS said.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 3,171 migrants have died or gone missing while crossing the Mediterranean this year, including more than 2,700 on the sea route to Italy. 

Earlier this year, Italy replaced Greece as the main entry point for Europe-bound migrants from Africa, the Middle East and beyond, following the tigthening of border controls along the so-called Balkan route.

According to data from UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), last updated Sunday, more than 122,000 migrants have landed in Italy since January 1. This compares to about 116,000 who arrived in the January-August 2015 period.

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