When we presented our new Pact on Migration and Asylum, we committed to building an entirely new ecosystem on returns.
The reasoning is clear: any effective migration system also needs to ensure that those who do not have a right to stay in the EU are returned to their countries of origin.
Not doing so undermines the credibility of our migration system and takes away from our ability to provide protection to those who need it.
And yet, returns is an area where the EU collectively still has a lot of work to do. In 2019, nearly 500,000 people were issued with return orders but only 142 000 of them actually left - meaning we are only managing to return one third of those who should leave.
Successful returns are the result of a combination of factors.
A major piece of the puzzle is readmission - in order to be able to return someone to their country of origin, that country needs to accept their return, it being an obligation under international law to readmit your own nationals.
This is something we are addressing through our work on the external dimension of migration. We notably most recently came forward with an assessment of third countries' cooperation on readmission and are taking this work forward in the framework of our Visa Code.
Last month we also held a jumbo meeting of foreign and home affairs ministers, where we signalled a paradigm shift in our approach and agreed that to achieve the results we are looking for, we need to work in partnership with third countries and pursue a balanced approach to the use of leverages.
But readmission is only one part of the picture. The flipside to this is how we prepare returns internally.
There are many facets to this internal side, which we are also addressing.
We are for instance working to improve the governance framework on returns in the form of the revised Return Directive. We have also equipped Frontex with a new operational mandate for carrying out returns, so that the Agency will be able to provide operational support to the national authorities and assist with the identification of returnees and the acquisition of travel documents, the organisation of return operations and support to voluntary departure and reintegration.
We are also appointing an EU Return Coordinator, who will be supported by a High Level Network and will bring together return and readmission stakeholders in EU Member States and encourage work towards a common objective.
And now with today's Voluntary Return and Reintegration Strategy we are adding a further piece of the puzzle.
The strategy acknowledges that return is more effective when carried out voluntarily and accompanied with strong reintegration measures. This is because voluntary return gives the returnees real opportunities and takes into account their needs, expectations and prospects once returned. When developed as part of a comprehensive partnership, countries of return would also be more inclined to participate in and take ownership of the process when the returns are voluntary. Voluntary return is also more cost effective and reintegration measures ensure returns are more sustainable in the long-run.
We therefore have every reason to promote voluntary return and reintegration measures as part of the EU's comprehensive approach to migration.
Today's strategy is the first of its kind.
It also ties in with our other proposals under the Pact and will support the implementation of some of its key components.
For instance, the New Pact would set up a new return border procedure, operating in a fast and effective manner to prevent irregular migration and unauthorised movements. This should facilitate and encourage voluntary returns since people will be available and more prone to cooperated with the authorities.
Furthermore, the Pact integrates the concept of return sponsorship - the new form of solidarity contribution to assist Member States under migratory pressure in carrying out returns. Today's strategy will further support the implementation of return sponsorship as this key solidarity measures can also be fulfilled through the sponsorship of voluntary returns.
Today's strategy looks at all the current challenges to voluntary returns and proposes a way forward in seven main areas - from effective return counselling, to better coordination and a mobilisation of funding. I will let Ylva give you the details of these actions.
But the overarching aim is to develop a more uniform and coordinated approach among Member States to unlock the full potential of voluntary return and reintegration.
As such, we will make voluntary return and reintegration one of the pillars of the new ecosystem we are building on returns, to the mutual benefit of the returnees, the EU and third countries.