ROME (AP) — The Italian government on Friday approved measures aimed at streamlining the decision process for asylum requests — as well as speeding up the deportations of those whose asylum bids have been denied.
The developments came amid criticism from opposition leaders over the presence of tens of thousands 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 through 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 and persecution.
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 who are unlikely to be granted asylum. After their asylum bids are refused, many asylum-seekers slip away before being deported.
With elections looming perhaps as early as this year, Italy's center-left government is sensitive to the growth of populist and anti-immigrant political parties.
The measures on Friday also include allowing towns to put willing migrants to work for free on public projects while they await the outcome of their asylum bids.