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Austrian minister calls for tighter border controls for EU citizens

Austria’s interior minister has called for tougher measures to protect the European Union’s borders from returning jihadi fighters, Austrian newspaper Oesterreich reported on Sunday.

“We know that more than 5,000 people traveled to Syria and Iraq to be trained or even to fight,” Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told the paper.

“So it’s more pressing than ever that EU citizens be systematically controlled at the outside borders in the future,” she said.

Disagreement over immigration and border protection has divided the European bloc as suicide bombings in Brussels on Tuesday and attacks in Paris last November have heightened security concerns amidst a wave of incoming refugees.

Austria – the last stop before Germany, the top destination for migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and beyond – has come under fire for its tough immigration stance.

Vienna has said it will introduce tougher checks at its border with Italy and has urged the EU to send soldiers to Greece to police the bloc’s frontiers.

In a separate interview with Austrian newspaper Oberoesterreichische Nachrichten on Sunday, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy of upholding Germany as an asylum magnet was unfair on Austria. He urged the German chancellor to speak out against migrants trying to break through various borders to access the country.

“Merkel’s policy can cause damage to Austria. We don’t want to be Germany’s buffer zone,” Faymann said.

On Saturday, members of Merkel’s conservatives said Europe urgently needed to improve the way its security agencies share information, stoking a debate on how to tighten security while safeguarding data protection.

“Faster communication is important so that tips about possible attacks can be quickly assessed and terrorist acts can be prevented if possible before they take place or cleared up in a more focused way,” Germany’s EU Commissioner Guenther Oettinger told the daily Bild.

Cyprus said on Thursday it had sent back around 30 people with EU passports to their countries of origin after suspicions they were trying to make their way to join the Islamic State.

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