UN Adopts Historic Migration Pact, But Guess Who’s Boycotting It
“Anyone who has good faith should have agreed to this pact.”
Last Monday, more than 150 member countries of the United Nations (U.N.), agreed on an international treaty to address the growing challenges related to migration. The migration pact, officially known as the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM), was agreed upon at an inter-governmental conference in Marrakesh, Morocco.
The non-binding pact aims to improve international cooperation and handling of migrants through 23 separate objectives. Opponents of the pact argue it encroaches on national sovereignty and establishes migration as a human right, while advocates for the pact say it increases much-needed international cooperation while maintaining states’ sovereignty.
The migration pact itself does include language recognizing the sovereignty of states to determine their own national migration policy, but critics view it as not enough:
“The Global Compact reaffirms the sovereign right of States to determine their national migration policy and their prerogative to govern migration within their jurisdiction, in conformity with international law. Within their sovereign jurisdiction, States may distinguish between regular and irregular migration status, including as they determine their legislative and policy measures for the implementation of the Global Compact, taking into account different national realities, policies, priorities and requirements for entry, residence and work, in accordance with international law,” the final draft of the pact states.
Some of the pact’s objectives include coordinating efforts on missing migrants, ensuring that all migrants have legal proof of identity, investing in migrant skill development, improving data collection and strengthening international cooperation on human trafficking and smuggling.
One of the more controversial objectives of the migration pact is to use migration detention only as a last resort — detention is currently a common practice in the U.S. and elsewhere while migrants await their fate.
US Boycotts Migration Pact Early On
A first draft of the GCM was originally agreed to by all 193 U.N. member countries last July, minus one. The only country boycotting the pact at that time was the United States.
The U.S. had participated in early discussions but then withdraw last December. The Trump administration has often called such international agreements threats to national sovereignty, particularly in respect to border control.
Despite the U.S.’ withdrawal, U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres celebrated the adoption of the GCM as a sign of international cooperation and dedication to tackling migration problems.
“This moment is the inspiring product of dedicated and painstaking efforts,” Guterres said when delivering an opening speech of the conference.
“Migration has always been with us. But in a world where it is ever more inevitable and necessary, it should be well managed and safe, not irregular and dangerous.
“National policies are far more likely to succeed with international cooperation.”
On Friday, the U.S. called the pact “an effort by the United Nations to advance global governance at the expense of the sovereign right of states”.
Other Countries Join US Boycott
Despite early near-unanimous approval for the migration pact, the U.S. is now no longer the lone standout. Australia, for example, said it would follow Washington by not signing the migration pact, citing it would harm Canberra’s strict policy on migration and national security.
“The global compact on migration would compromise Australia’s interest. It doesn’t distinguish between those who illegally enter Australia and those who come the right way,” Australia’s Primer Minister Scott Morrison told Radio 2GB in November.
Under Australia’s hardline immigration policy, asylum seekers arriving by boat are told that they will never be allowed to reside in Australia. Those asylum seekers are then detained in two detention centers on remote islands in the South Pacific until they are either received by other countries or agree to return to their home countries.
U.N. and human rights organizations strongly criticize those camps for treating illegal immigrants inhumanely. Reports of asylum seekers spending years in the centers and depressed and suicidal children sparked protests across Australia recently.
Brazil said it will exit the GCM in January 2019, saying that the migration pact is not the right instrument to solve the migration problem as migration is not a global issue. Each country has to set up its own migration policy.
“The Bolsonaro government will dissociate from the Global Compact for Migration … an inappropriate instrument to deal with the problem,” Brazil’s incoming Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo wrote on Twitter.
Last November, several European countries stated they would not support the pact, citing a threat to the national security as a reason behind their opposition.
Austria’s right-wing government said it would withdraw from the treaty, arguing that the migration pact will blur the difference between illegal and legal migrants.
Croatia also stated it would abandon the GCM following tension on its border due to the influx of thousands of illegal immigrants trying to reach the country from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.
Croatian Presiden Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic decided not to attend the Marrakesh conference and spoke against the Marrakesh agreement.
“I am here to say no to the Marrakesh Agreement, no to a disputed document on migration and no the liberalization of migration,” Hrvoje Zekanovic, a Croatian lawmaker sent to the conference, said in Marrakesh, holding up a banner that said: “Against Marrakesh Agreement”.
Chile is the last country to exit from the migration pact, saying that migration is not a human right and each country has the right to determine entry requirements for foreigners.
Migration: The Facts
According to U.N. data, there were 258 million migrants worldwide in 2017, an increase of more than 50 percent since 2000.
The number of migrants, accounting for 3.4 percent of the world’s population, is increasing more rapidly than the global population. There are several factors driving the rise in migration including conflicts, inequality, climate change, violence, and poverty.
Around 80 percent of the world’s migrants move between countries “ in a safe and orderly fashion.” But there are others who are at risk. The International Organization on Migration (IOM) said that throughout 2018, more than 3,300 people have died or disappeared while migrating towards an international destination.
In 2017, 6,000 migrants died, IOM data revealed. But, the real number could be much higher according to the organization’s Missing Migrants Project (MMP).
In February of 2018, IOM’s Director General, William Lacy Swing, stressed that “not all deaths and disappearances during migration are reported – in many remote regions of the world, bodies may never be found, and many migrants may never be identified.”
Who Supports the Migration Pact?
Besides the 150 signatories of the migration pact, multiple international humanitarian organizations have vocalized support for the pact and disappointment that any country would refuse the agreement.
Francesco Rocca of the International Red Cross and the Red Crescent Federation (IFRC), lamented the countries boycotting the pact to Al Jazeera.
“Fortunately, not many countries were against the pact but there were some important countries in terms of economic influence,” Rocca said.
“So it’s a concern they decided not to be present. This is political instrumentalization. The GCM is very clear as it has no interference in internal policies or laws but only preserving [the] dignity of human beings. Anyone who has good faith should have agreed to this pact.”
Unicef also hailed the pact as “a historic achievement”.
“Today, more than 100 countries still have policies of migration detention for children. Imagine if alternatives to migration detention for children were adopted globally, and the number of detained children fell from a million today to zero. Imagine if we could close the gap in access to education and health for migrant children so that such inequities did not exist,” Laurence Chandy of Unicef said.
Marta Foresti, a director of the human mobility initiative at the Overseas Development Institute, called the migration pact “very significant” and “remarkable.”
“Over the last few years we have seen just how badly governments all over the world have failed to put in place policies that protect the lives of migrants and allay public concerns over messy and incoherent approaches to border management,” Foresti told the Guardian.
The U.N. General Assembly is scheduled to adopt the resolution that formally supports the migration pact on December 19 in New York.