Germany's interior minister on Saturday said the European Union in the future should take in a finite number of migrants while sending the rest back to a safe country in their home regions.
"We cannot accept all the people who are fleeing conflict zones or poverty and want to come to Europe or Germany," Thomas de Maiziere said in an interview with the German news weekly Spiegel.
De Maiziere has taken a tougher line in the current crisis of tens of thousands of migrants sweeping across Europe, many heading for Germany, than the country's leader Angela Merkel.
For the conservative minister, Europe must refrain from setting relatively generous quotas of refugees, creating instead "a legal means of immigration" with a cap on the number of people the continent can be responsible for.
Once the continental limit on refugees has been reached, De Maiziere said they should be sent back to their "region of origin" to a place where "they can live in security and without persecution".
"We should financially help the countries concerned," he added.
Merkel has warned that the asylum issue could become a bigger challenge for the EU than the Greek debt crisis and urged a coordinated approach from Brussels, supporting quotas of refugees for each EU member state but without setting a continent-wide ceiling on the number accepted.
An EU proposal on setting quotas of migrants for each member has triggered strong opposition from Britain and eastern European countries.
De Maiziere this week also proposed toughening asylum laws by sending migrants back to the first EU country they reached and by reducing benefits.
He wants the so-called Dublin Regulation, which normally requires people to make their asylum claims in the first EU country they enter, to be enforced again after Germany said in August it would no longer apply to Syrians.
If his draft is approved, it could leave thousands of people who have reached Germany in recent weeks out in the cold.