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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - About 10,800 migrants reached Italy through the Mediterranean in March, up by almost a fifth from February and bringing the total to more than 24,000 people so far this year, the European Union's border guard agency Frontex said on Wednesday.

Italy is the main gateway to Europe for migrants from Africa after an EU deal with Turkey last year shut another Mediterranean route that had mostly been used by refugees from the Middle East.

The bloc has taken in some 1.6 million refugees and migrants in 2014-16 and has struggled to deal with the influx.

Frontex said that, at 24,250 people, the arrivals in Italy so far this year are almost a third higher than in the same period of 2016.

Since the route leading from the Turkish shores to EU state Greece has been closed, however, the overall arrivals in the bloc in the first quarter of the year have been about two-thirds lower that a year ago and stood at some 32,650 people.

(Writing by Gabriela Baczynska)

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