The Italian government on Friday approved measures aimed at streamlining the decision process for asylum requests — as well as speeding up deportations of those whose bids have been denied — amid criticism from opposition leaders over the presence of the scores of migrants rescued at sea off Italy in the past few years.

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting that focused on giving authorities a better grip on the migrant crisis, Premier Paolo Gentiloni said he wanted changes so that migrants "arrive in our country in a safe way and in controlled numbers," instead of risking their lives under the control of human smugglers and traffickers.

Justice Minister Andrea Orlando said special sections in courthouses will be set up with judges handling only asylum cases. Complications in law enforcement and cities struggling with the logistics of handling so many migrants often mean delays for those requesting refuge from war, persecution or other grounds eligible for asylum, he said.

The time to complete the asylum request process, which can involve two levels of appeals in Italy, averages two years. Interior Minister Marco Minniti said Italy is now adding 250 specialists to asylum commissions to "drastically knock down" wait times for a final decision.

Most recent arrivals are economic migrants from Africa unlikely to be granted asylum. After bids are refused, many asylum-seekers slip away before deportation.

With elections looming perhaps as early as this year, the center-left government is sensitive to the growth of populist and anti-immigrant political parties.

The measures also include allowing towns to put willing migrants to work for free on public projects while awaiting the outcome of their asylum bids.