BERLIN Germany's parliament on Thursday agreed on tougher asylum rules aimed at curbing a record-influx of refugees as senior aides of Chancellor Angela Merkel played down reports that ministry officials were expecting some 3.6 million migrants by 2020.
The Bundestag lower house of parliament passed a bundle of measures such as a two-year ban on family reunions for some asylum seekers that would also affect unaccompanied minors.
It also agreed on a new law to facilitate the deportation of foreign nationals who commit crimes, in the wake of assaults on women on New Year's Eve which were widely blamed on migrants.
Merkel's chief of staff said Berlin wanted to reduce the influx of migrants, but nobody could tell how many would come this year and beyond, adding that internal estimates by ministry officials could not be seen as a government forecast.
"There are no reliable figures because we don't know how things will develop," Peter Altmaier said, pointing to uncertainties such as the civil war in Syria and negotiations with Turkey where many refugees leave from by boat.
Government sources confirmed a newspaper report which said ministries were calculating on the basis that some 500,000 migrants would come to Germany every year between 2016-2020.
In addition to the 1.1 million registered in 2015, this would mean Germany could see some 3.6 million migrants by 2020. But this was a "purely technical" estimate, officials explained.
Altmaier noted it was a normal thing for ministries to make internal estimates on migration since the federal budget had to be planned. But he added: "That doesn't mean that we have a forecast on how the figures will develop in the next years."
The head of Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, Frank-Juergen Weise, echoed Altmaier's remarks and said he was not working on the basis of the ministry estimates.
"I'm not expecting these numbers," Weise told reporters when asked about the 3.6 million migrants expected by 2020.
Since the beginning of 2016, more than 100,000 migrants have entered Germany. Federal police said on Wednesday they had only registered 103 migrants arriving on Tuesday, suggesting a sharp drop as a result of tighter controls along the Balkan route.
At the start of the prior week, over 2,000 were arriving on a daily basis. Last summer the daily arrivals sometimes totalled over 10,000.
(Additional reporting by Mattias Sobolewski and Rene Wagner,; Editing by Alison Williams)