On International Migrants Day, we renew our commitment as European Union to address one of the key challenges and opportunities of our times: the humane management of the flows of people leaving their country in search of a better life, prosperity or safety. We Europeans know very well what this means, because our history has been and continues to be a history of migration.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that in 2019, there are around 270 million international migrants in the world. This is a huge number, and an increasing one, but still it only represents less than 4% of the world population. Most move within their continents of origin. Most undertake their journeys in a regular, legal manner. We should avoid the risk of falling into the trap of wrong narratives that can be exploited. Migration is an overall positive global phenomenon and an important factor for international development.
This does not mean underestimating the associated challenges on our societies, in particular when confronted with large or unexpected irregular migration flows. On the contrary. It means that we need to address migration effectively and in a sustainable manner, while holding our values and principles up high. We need a coordinated response, at the European and at the global level. Since the height of the refugee and migration crisis in 2015, the EU has put in place a comprehensive approach to managing migration, saving lives in the Mediterranean, addressing the root causes, enhancing border management, providing support to EU Member States and establishing genuine partnerships with countries of origin and transit. Yet, internally the EU has struggled to agree on certain aspects of our common migration and asylum policy within its borders, in particular with regard to a fair responsibility sharing. This is harmful to the EU's credibility and can fuel anti-migrant populism.
The support to EU Member States facing the most pressure remains a priority for this European Commission. One of our very first decisions as new Commission has been the approval of additional emergency funding to Italy and Spain, on top of the substantial funding already provided to Member States in the last years. This funding is helping to improve social cohesion in local communities that have recently received a significant number of people.
Nevertheless, we have to do more in order to have a comprehensive and sustainable migration policy in place.
Let us remember for a moment the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement: lack of development and economic opportunities, terrorism, human rights violations, instability and conflicts, climate change and natural disasters. Addressing root causes is a central focus in the European Union’s foreign and security policy. We have established new partnerships with countries of origin and of transit in Africa, but also with partner countries in the Western Balkans and the EU's wider neighbourhood. We have stepped up our cooperation with the UN agencies to an unprecedented level, to assist migrants and refugees and to ensure respect of human rights and improve their living conditions.
And it's working. We are saving lives. Irregular arrivals to Europe have dropped 90% since their peak in 2015. The EU Trust Fund for Africa has mobilised over €4.7 billion and more than 200 projects are ongoing to address the most urgent needs, and provide support and assistance for the medium and longer term. EU Operations active in the Mediterranean have contributed to saving over 760,000 lives at sea since 2015 and EU CSDP missions and operations contribute to providing stability and capacity building in the EU’s immediate neighbourhood and beyond. Since 2015, more than 65,000 refugees have been resettled to EU Member States. Under the ongoing EU resettlement scheme, 20 Member States have pledged to provide more than 50,000 places to those most in need and an additional 30,000 places for 2020. At the same time, we are working on improving legal pathways towards the European Union, including for labour migration.
The trilateral cooperation between the African Union, European Union and the United Nations has assisted over 50,000 people to return voluntarily from Libya to their countries of origin in the past two years. The EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Return has assisted almost 80,000 people with post-arrival and reintegration support in their home countries so far.
The European Union is doing a lot, and we remain committed to do even more in the future. Migration is an intrinsic feature of our societies and is here to stay. What we are aiming at is ensuring that migration takes place in a regular, well-managed and safe way. To achieve this, we need to focus even more on partnerships with key countries and international organisations, to strengthen existing ones and to establish new ones. This also includes finalising more readmission agreements and increasing return rates. To this aim, we need political will, profound cooperation and also enough resources in the next multiannual budget. Only by working together on the numerous factors that are linked to global migration – conflict prevention and solution, climate change and sustainable development, empowering women, fighting migrant smuggling and human trafficking and saving lives, border control, eradicating terrorism and promoting good governance, democracy and rule of law - we can truly and effectively address the real needs of the people.
We have the duty to be responsible and principled as well as realistic and truthful at the same time. The identity and the culture we Europeans are so proud of were shaped by mixing identities and cultures in the past. Welcoming new energy and benefiting from migrant citizens will be a part of our future. We need to do so carefully and wisely, taking into account sensitivities and concerns, in close cooperation between institutions and civil society and in cooperation with our partners. It is a matter of preserving Europe's strength, our values and principles, our identity and culture, and our economic prosperity. Not with strangers, but with new Europeans.