Will the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration solve the crisis?

At an intergovernmental conference convened under the auspices of the United Nations in Marrakesh, Morocco, 164 nations adopted a pact on 10 December 2018 to manage the global migration crisis. The ‘Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration’ is the first, intergovernmental agreement that covers all dimensions of global migration. The legally non-binding pact aims to promote efforts to strengthen regular migration pathways and protect the human rights of migrants. Its objectives and commitments provide states and international agencies a means to coordinate migration policies and ensure that migration works for all. However, on the flip side, the non-participation of some important countries raises questions about the future of the pact.

Why a Global Compact

The last few decades have experienced massive population shifts across the globe. The conflicts in West Asia, Africa and South America, and the extreme violence associated with them have forced people to leave their homes and seek a haven in foreign countries. In addition, climate change effects also contributed to the growing number of migrants and refugees. According to the United Nations, approximately 258 million migrants around the world are living outside their country of birth. Out of these, around 68 million are in the “forcibly displaced” category, more than at any time in the recorded history of the modern world. Since 2000, the number of global migrants has grown by 49 per cent, from 2.8 to 3.4 per cent of the global population. The UN data also shows that, since then, more than 60,000 migrants have lost their lives while on the move.

On the other side, resentment against migrants has intensified across the globe, particularly in Europe and the United States. Though the global migrant population constitutes merely 3.4 per cent of the world’s population, burgeoning protests against migrants have created a wider perception that migrants are threats to national economies. The rising tide of resentment in these countries has also produced the impression that most migrants are settled in the developed world whereas the reality is otherwise. Studies show that the developing world hosts more than half of the global migrant population and that migrants have contributed to the development of both sending and hosting countries.

Against this backdrop, recognizing the need for enhanced international cooperation and a comprehensive approach to the issue of migrants, all the 193 members of the UN adopted a resolution called New York Declaration in September 2016. The resolution demanded the protection of the ‘safety, dignity human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants, regardless of their migratory status.’ Combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination towards migrants, supporting the host countries, and developing non-binding principles and guidelines for treatment of migrants were the other proposals of the declaration. In addition, the New York declaration recommended two global compacts: a global compact on refugees and a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration.

Deliberations and Stocktaking

As proposed by the New York Declaration, elaboration of the Global Compact for Migration took place in three phases; consultation, stocktaking, and negotiation. The first phase involving six rounds of informal thematic sessions, which aimed to gather substantive inputs and recommendations for the Global Compact, was held between April and December 2017. The human rights of migrants, drivers of migration, irregular migration, international cooperation, smuggling and trafficking, and contribution of migrants were the main foci of these deliberations. In addition, five UN regional consultations (Africa, Asia and Pacific, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Western Asia), multi-stakeholder hearings, and regional civil society consultations also took place in 2017.

Subsequently, the stocktaking phase reviewed and analysed the information gathered during the consultations. The meeting provided “a platform for delegations and other stakeholders to jointly shape a vision for the Compact and collectively identify actionable commitments as well as respective means of implementation and partnerships the Compact may include.” The outcome was a ‘Zero Draft’ jointly prepared by Mexico and Switzerland, the co-facilitators of the process. Finally, the third phase, intergovernmental negotiations began with the release of the draft in February 2018 and ended with its finalization in July 2018. The final draft, which was agreed to by all 193 members of the UN, has four sections: vision and guiding principles, objectives and commitments, implementation, and follow up.

Objectives and Commitments

The Global Compact aims to ensure that migration ‘works for all’ by setting out a common understanding and shared responsibilities. It strives to foster international cooperation among “all relevant actors on migration, acknowledging that no State can address migration alone, and upholds the sovereignty of States and their obligations under international law.” Its central principles are people-centredness, national sovereignty, international cooperation, rule of law and sustainable development. The 23 objectives of the Compact seek to minimize the factors which force people to leave their country, ensure legal identity and documentation, provide regular pathways, eradicate trafficking, and facilitate return and readmission of all migrants. Moreover, to achieve these objectives, it spelt out 187 actions and many commitments.


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