An Italian bishop has criticised a nativity scene that features a migrant dinghy at its centre.

The scene, which has been set up in a square in Castenaso, a small town near Bologna, shows the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus in a rubber boat.

The town's mayor, Stefano Sermenghi, ordered the installation to symbolise the plight of the thousands of refugees and migrants who make the treacherous Mediterranean crossing each month to find a new home in Europe.

An estimated 3,086 migrants are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean so far this year, according to the latest figures published by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

One of the most lethal routes is the crossing between North Africa and the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Sermenghi told La Repubblica newspaper that he wanted to raise awareness of the dangers migrants face when they flee violence and upheaval in their own countries. He added that the difficulties do not end when they reach land.

"Many people in Italy open their mouths, but then nobody does anything to provide a positive welcome to those who arrive," he said.

A local bishop took issue with Sermenghi's representation of the nativity. Ernesto Vecchi said that the Virgin Mary and Jesus should not be shown sitting in a boat.

"The central nucleus of a nativity scene calls for a child in swaddling clothes to be placed in a manger, and this must be respected," he told local newspaper Il Resto Di Carlino. "The most important part of the crib cannot be represented by a boat."

When asked about the message the installation was sending, Vecchi said: "I'm not saying a crib cannot be enriched by other elements, and certainly, a boat is a symbol that reminds us of the need for hospitality, but don't forget that Jesus is the saviour of all problems, not just one."

More than 175,000 migrants and refugees have travelled to Europe this year, less than half the number in 2016, when almost 387,895 arrivals were recorded. Italy was the most popular destination, with 117 042 people arriving between January and the end of November.