Thank you very much for the invitation. Thank you very much for the opportunity to come and be a witness.
Thinking about what I am going to say about migration and your ongoing preparation of the reports, I can definitely assure you that there is quite a lot the European Union and Europe can say about the current developments and current undertakings related to migration. I hope today's conversations will help you in drafting the report in different ways and from different perspectives.
Migration is not a local phenomenon, nor can it be reduced to a national or even regional challenge. Wars, violence and persecution drove worldwide forced displacement to a new high in 2017 for the fifth year in a row. Therefore, we are talking about something that is somehow becoming permanent.
As of the end of 2017, 68.5 million people were displaced. Among them were 16.2 million people who became displaced just during 2017 itself, indicating a huge number of people on the move. If we deduce it more precisely, it is equivalent to 44,500 people who are displaced each day, or approximately one person displaced every two seconds. These numbers speak for themselves. It is truly a global phenomenon that continues and is likely to continue for the foreseeable future to have a major impact on our societies, on our economies, and on our political debates.
The European Union, due to its geographical location, its intrinsic openness, its interconnections to trade and travel routes, and its open frontiers, is in the midst of this challenge. The EU is located in close proximity to several crisis zones. Our situation is different from that of other countries that have secure physical borders.
We are also close to some of the countries with the highest population growth. To give you one example, Nigeria has less than 200 million inhabitants today, and it is estimated it will have one billion at the end of this century. This is an enormous challenge, but let me add, also an enormous opportunity.
Being a global phenomenon, migration requires global attention, political will, and a global shared vision. In this respect, we are grateful that Canada remains our strong partner in international fora at the UN as well as at the G7, calling for solidarity and global migration management. We also acknowledge the contribution of Canada in resettling 40,000 Syrian refugees since 2015.
After this brief yet necessary introduction, let me address the first point raised by this honourable committee, and that is the state of play in the European Union or its neighbourhood.
It is fair to say that a combination of the factors in 2015 and 2016 led to the unprecedented influx of irregular migrants to the EU. It is also fair to say that the EU was less than optimally prepared for an event of such proportions. I will not delve into details. Suffice it to say that between 2015 and 2017, the EU received over 3.4 million asylum seekers.
To compound the problem, the vast majority of these applicants arrived in a very limited number of countries, which did not have sufficient structures with the capacity to handle such an inflow. That said, the EU today is far better prepared to handle the migration phenomenon and to face the challenge.
We have made significant, important strides during the last 18 months. We have stemmed irregular migration. Arrivals have been dramatically reduced, down by 97% on the eastern Mediterranean route and 80% on the central Mediterranean route. Numbers are now back, if I may say so, to those of pre-crisis years.
Meanwhile, we have saved over 690,000 lives at sea in the past three years, 690,000, thanks to the combined efforts of the EU and its member states. This impressive progress has been made possible by the improved management of our external borders. As Canada knows very well, the effective management of external borders is a precondition of any successful migration policy.
I should also underline that the EU has reinforced its external borders, not closed them. It has put in place structures to speed the processing of claims at the border and to register and process arrivals.
Furthermore, given the geographical situation of the European Union, a robust migration policy should not be limited to effectively managing the borders. It is an illusion to imagine stemming the flow of people by erecting walls or building fences. For that matter, it is difficult to imagine where any such wall could actually be built around Europe, given our interconnections with Asia and African.
A successful integration policy and immigration policy has to encompass an external dimension aimed at tackling the root causes that force people to move.
We have stepped up our co-operation with countries of origin and transit on returns and readmission. Despite some success in concluding new non-legally binding arrangements with Bangladesh, Guinea, Ethiopia, the Gambia, and soon, hopefully, Ivory Coast, securing third countries' cooperation on the readmission of their own nationals remains a challenge. Lack of cooperation from certain origin countries is not helping, and it represents perhaps the major challenge at this stage.
In the longer term, the situation can only improve by addressing the roots of the phenomena, such as what we have seen in Syria and tackling issues of good governance in Africa. Given the projections of demographic trends, people will only be willing to stay in their countries if they have good economic prospects but also freedom and the protection of fundamental rights. Assisting African countries in creating better economic opportunities, improving their governance and fighting corruption and mismanagement is not an expense; it is an investment in our future.
The EU is Africa's closest neighbour, biggest investor, main trading and development partner and a key security provider. I would like to mention just a few figures for reference. The EU is providing 31 billion euros in official development assistance to Africa between 2014 to 2020 to boost Africa's economy, to give young people in the continent a chance to build a future, to ensure food security and access to energy, and to anchor good governance and respect for human rights. The EU member states held an investment stock of 291 billion euros in 2016 in Africa, making the EU the biggest investor in that continent. The EU also offers free access to the EU market via economic partnership agreements with the countries of North Africa, and, for everything but arms schemes, with the rest of the continent.
Let me provide an overview of other developments in migration and what we are doing right now.
First of all, I would like to state the obvious, which is that migration is something that features very strongly on the political agenda of the European Union. Here are just three examples. Ministers of the interior of the European Union, 28 member states, discussed migration on October 12. Ministers of foreign affairs met yesterday, and heads of state of governments will discuss migration later this week when they have a meeting on October 17 and 18.
Just to demonstrate that migration is definitely high on the agenda of political leadership, in the state of the union speech last month, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, announced a number of new important proposals that will strengthen our work on migration and asylum. Allow me to mention some of them.
EU leaders agreed to strengthen the role of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency with 10,000 permanent staff with their own equipment and tools, provided by national border agencies; a budget of 2.2 billion euros between 2021 and 2027 to finance its operations; and a strong mandate to launch joint operations, not only with its own staff within the EU but also outside the European Union.
As I said, this is crucial to effectively manage European external borders and provide a high level of security within the European Union, but at the same time, Europe will not close its borders and will continue to offer safety to those in need of protection.
In addition to strong external borders, we are proposing to reinforce the European Union Agency for Asylum. This agency will become a major tool in strengthening European solidarity and in increasing readiness to manage future migration challenges. To assist member states to better handle migration, this agency will be able to provide operational technical assistance in a timely manner.
While granting protection to the most vulnerable remains a priority, returning migrants who are ineligible according to international legislation are equally important for the good functioning of our asylum and migration system. Despite increased efforts, the rate of effective returns throughout the EU decreased from 46% in 2016 to 37% in 2017. We will work to expedite return procedures and increase the overall return rate in full respect of fundamental rights.
Legal migration is an integral part of the EU's comprehensive approach to migration and goes hand in hand with a firm policy in tackling irregular flows and ensuring stronger border protection, streamlining asylum procedures and more effective returns.
We have a legal path of legal migration for skilled workers, the EU Blue Card scheme. We have adopted new rules to make it easier for foreign students, researchers, trainees and volunteers to get a permit to come to the EU and to facilitate their access to the labour market—for example, the double scholarships and placements for students from African countries.
We launched an initiative to coordinate pilot projects with selected third countries on legal migration to fill shortages in the labour markets and help countries of origin build capacity through circular and labour migration projects.
The EU internal resettlement initiatives have demonstrated that unsafe and irregular migration can be replaced with legal and safe channels for persons in need of international protection. We need to make full use of other legal avenues for persons in need of protection.
Since 2015, two successful EU internal resettlement programs have helped over 38,000 of the most vulnerable people find shelter within the EU between different EU member states. To coordinate European efforts in the long term, the European Commission has proposed to set up a permanent union resettlement framework as part of the overall asylum framework.
Integration of third country migrants into the labour market is key to ensuring a positive impact of migration. We are interested in how Canada's immigration policy addresses the admission of immigrants with skills that match economic needs and facilitates the long-term integration in the labour market, including recognition of foreign credentials and mentoring programs.
In conclusion, much has changed since 2015, but we do have a lot of work ahead of us to manage migration in a safe and orderly manner, pursuing a comprehensive migration approach, including on legal migration.
We have shared our experience with and learned from our Canadian counterparts at various levels on numerous occasions. Despite geographical differences, we know that the challenges we face are increasingly similar. We are grateful for Canada's continued co-operation and we look forward to further exchanges that are beneficial for both sides.
Thank you very much.