The development, presentation and reception of the Global Compact on Migration

Achieving safe, orderly and regular migration

In September 2016, the 193 members of the UN General Assembly unanimously approved a text called the New York Declaration, which aims to improve the international management of refugees and migrants, both in reception and in support for returns. On the basis of this declaration, Filippo Grandi – the High Commissioner for Refugees – was required to present a global pact on global and national policies for the coming decades in his upcoming annual report for the General Assembly of 2018.

In this declaration, the Member States recognized the need for a comprehensive approach to human mobility and strong global cooperation, and by committing to:

  • Protect the security, dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants, regardless of their status, at all times;
  • Support countries in the rescue and reception of refugees and migrants;
  • Integrate migrants through humanitarian assistance and development programs – addressing the needs and capacities of migrants and those of the communities that host them;
  • Combat xenophobia, racism and discrimination against migrants;
  • Develop through state-led processes, principles and guidelines on the treatment of migrants in conditions of vulnerability;
  • Strengthen the global governance on migration, with the entry of the IOM (International Organization for Migration) into the UN and the development of an agreement for a safe, orderly and regular migration – GCM.

This approach, which was to be called the Global Compact for Migration, aimed at identifying procedures and defining shared commitments on the part of the international community, in order to manage migratory phenomena more effectively on a global level and to enhance human mobility as a driver for sustainable development processes. In particular, the idea of the Global Compact for Migration was oriented to:

  • Establish principles and commitments among the Member States on international migration in all its dimensions;
  • Offer an important contribution to global governance and strengthen intergovernmental coordination in relation to the migration phenomenon;
  • Present shared policies for international cooperation on human mobility;
  • Jointly facing the multiple dimensions of international migration.

In this context, concrete and accountable commitments, means of implementation and a framework for the follow-up and review of implementation procedures will have to be defined through the Global Compact on Migration.

To this end, the preparatory process for the Global Compact on Migration is oriented towards a logic of inclusive participation, consolidating the perspectives of the many stakeholders involved in various ways: governments, United Nations organizations, civil society, private sector, migrants, universities research institutions and more.

In accordance with the Resolution on the modalities for the intergovernmental negotiations of the GCM (A/RES/71/280), adopted on 6 April 2017, the preparatory process leading to the adoption of the Global Compact for Migration included three phases:

  1. Phase I, articulated in consultations (thematic, national, regional and other consultations), which took place from April to November 2017;
  2. Phase II, dedicated to the drafting of the results of the consultation processes, which took place from November 2017 to January 2018;
  3. Phase III, dedicated to intergovernmental negotiations, held from February to July 2018.

13 July 2018: Presentation of the Global Compact for Migration

After more than a year of discussions and consultations among UN member states with politicians and local officials, representatives of civil society and the migrants themselves, the text of the Global Compact for Migration was completed on 13 July 2018. Prepared under supervision of the United Nations, and as the result of negotiations between States, the global pact for migration will be the first intergovernmental agreement to manage the dimensions of international migration in a comprehensive way, with particular attention to the rights of migrants and to sustainable territorial development. UN Secretary General António Guterres defined the agreement as “significant” because it reflects a shared idea by governments that “cross-border migration is an international phenomenon that requires an international cooperation to manage it better and highlight its positive impact for all the actors involved”.

Furthermore, according to Guterres, the treaty “recognizes that every individual has the right of safety, dignity and protection and that the objectives and actions implemented or under review will facilitate a safe, orderly and regular migration, reducing the incidence and the impact of irregular migration”.

The president of the UN General Assembly, Miroslav Lajčák, spoke of a “historic moment” and highlighted the enormous potential of the Global Compact because she considers it as a new platform for cooperation that will neither encourage or curb migrations, and which will not dictate certain norms to states, but will respect states’ their full sovereignty. Simultaneously, the platform is not legally binding but rather is a resource that “will help us to find a balance and exploit the benefits of migrations”, while “mitigating its risks”. “it is a new platform for cooperation that will not encourage or curb migrations, which will not dictate norms to States but will respect their full sovereignty and it will not even be legally binding, but it will be a resource that will help us to find a balance and exploit the benefits of migration, mitigating its risks “.

According to Louise Arbor, special representative for international migration, the chaotic aspects and the dangers of exploitation inherent to international migration will be adequately monitored by the new agreement, as she believes in the benefits on a social, economic and safety level which are made possible by a document that results from multilateral collaboration.

Furthermore, William Lacy Swing, the Director General of IOM, also welcomed the method adopted by the Member States as “This agreement does not mark the end of the commitment, but the beginning of a historic effort to shape the global agenda on migration”. “During the entire process – Swing explained – everyone has clearly recognized that migration is primarily about people. And this approach focused on migrants and adopted by Mexican, Swiss co-facilitators and the Special Representative to the Secretary-General on International Migration, is unprecedented in history”.

The Global Compact will be formally adopted by the Member States at an intergovernmental conference to be held in Marrakech, Morocco, on the 10th and 11th of December 2018. Amina Mohammed, Secretary-General of the United Nations for Migration, will preside over the meeting.

A historical agreement, but what will change for migrants?

The epochal importance of the agreement reached “behind closed doors” was explained to journalists by the President of the UN General Assembly Miroslav Lajcak, together with the special representative of the Secretary General for International Migration Louise Arbor and the Mexican ambassador Juan Camacho.  They presented the agreement with a triumphant tone, but the conditions within the agreement remain non-binding for the countries involved. In line with this, doubts remain about what will change for the anti-migrant policies of governments, especially in Europe.

The agreement certainly marks a point for the development of cooperation on the phenomenon of migratory waves, especially within the international context. However, the euphoria with which it was presented to journalists could somehow have seemed out of place, above all due to the non-binding nature of the same. In fact, how much can it actually influence the European situation, where nations do not only struggle to find a common line of action on the management of refugee flows, but tend to move towards an opposite direction of the agreement?

The doubts around the value of the “non-law” part of the agreement were also expressed during the press conference on the 12th of July by Antonio Guterres, when the UN Secretary General had to admit that “the agreement represents a sort of soft law, a collection of guiding principles, that States can follow without actually adopting every single aspect”.

In this regard, the president of the General Assembly Miroslav Lajcak declared that “The agreement does not want to solve all the issues related to the phenomenon” but its “aim is to make it safe, orderly and regulated” specifying that it “will help national governments” and, moreover, it “tells us a set of principles on what it is and is not migration”.

A similar comment was made by the Special Envoy of the Secretary General, Louise Arbor, who has recognized that the agreement could be more just or more founded, but “the effort made will serve to overcome the negative aspect that is usually associated with the migration phenomenon, when only the irregular position of the people involved is noticed”. She also added that “the important thing is that the public opinion understands the various aspects of the phenomenon, many of which can be linked to a secure and regulated environment”, highlighting the fact that “saving lives is our purpose”.

Following on this, it could be concluded that it was not possible to obtain more gains from the agreement. Therefore, in respect of the misery suffered by migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and beyond, it would perhaps have been more appropriate to announce the agreement at the UN’s Glass Palace with a more tempered tone.

Sources: by Alessandra Muglia, 3rd of December 2017;; 14th of July 2018; by Chiara Nobis and Stefano Vaccara, 13th of July 2018.