UN Endorses Final Migration Compact, Pledging to Ensure Safer Climate and Contribute to Sustainability

19 July 2018

Negotiators have agreed on a final version of a global “migration compact,” capping several rounds of UN talks that were designed to respond to a burgeoning migrant crisis both within and across national borders. The text outlines a series of objectives that together could help make migration safer, including for children and women, while ensuring that migrants are enabled to contribute more to the economy, trade, and sustainable development. 

The final compact text will be officially adopted this coming December at an intergovernmental conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, and aims to strike a balance between fostering international cooperation and respecting national sovereignty. 

The document is known officially as the “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration.” It numbers at 34 pages in total, divided into a preamble, vision and guiding principles, cooperative framework, objectives and commitments, and follow-up and review.

“It does not encourage migration, nor does it aim to stop it. It is not legally binding. It does not dictate. It will not impose. And it fully respects the sovereignty of states. And its potential is huge,” said Miroslav Lajčák, the Slovak Minister of Foreign and European Affairs who currently serves as the President of the UN General Assembly.

He also noted that the compact is just one step in what must be a much longer process, given the extremely dangerous climate for migrants.

“Two thousand ninety-eight migrant deaths have been recorded since we began negotiations. Children made up about 400 of them. Many, not reported, have been lost in the desert or on other dangerous journeys. Others – including countless women and girls – have fallen victim to human trafficking. And, as we speak, thousands of migrant workers worry about their health, their security, and the welfare of their families,” he said last week.

Other high-level officials similarly warned that the international response to the challenges facing migrants must improve – with some also noting that the rhetoric used by many actors in discussing the migration crisis is severely detrimental.

“The discourse around migration is increasingly hostile. Too often, the reality of migrants’ lives — irregular and regular — is made even more difficult by prejudice and hardship. This is not only dangerous.  It flies in the face of the overwhelmingly positive impact of migration,” said UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed on 13 July.

Evolution of compact text

The negotiations to craft this compact have been an iterative process, bringing together contributions from national governments, intergovernmental organisations, migrants, sub-national government representatives, policy experts, academics, and civil society. Formal negotiations began in February 2018, following over a year of consultations and other preparations to lay the groundwork for these discussions.

There were six negotiating rounds, starting in February and culminating in July. The co-facilitators of the process were Ambassadors Juan José Gómez Camacho and Jürg Lauber, who represent Mexico and Switzerland at the UN in New York, respectively. (See Bridges Weekly, 15 February 2018)

William Lacy Swing, the current Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), welcomed the compact, while also calling for the momentum in this area to continue.

“This is not the end of the undertaking but the beginning of a new historic effort to shape the global agenda on migration for decades to come,” said Swing last week, praising in particular the multi-stakeholder process that led to the compact.

Swing is due to complete his second and final five-year term at the helm of the UN migration agency this year, with António Manuel de Carvalho Ferreira Vitorino due to take his place in October.

Objectives, approach

There are 23 objectives included in the global compact. These cover goals such as ensuring the necessary data is available for crafting appropriate policies, tackling discrimination, protecting migrant labour rights, and facilitating and improving international collaboration in this policy area. 

Of these 23 objectives, a handful make specific references to the role of trade, such as by lowering the need for potential migrants to leave their countries of origin, or by facilitating the acquisition or recognition of migrants’ skills and training abroad. 

Objective 2, for example, is entitled “Minimise the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their country of origin.” Within that, it calls for greater investment in schemes and policies that would help meet the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and associated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These include, for example, working to eradicate poverty, improve food security, tackle gender inequalities, address climate change effects and risks, and support more inclusive economic growth models. 

A separate sub-paragraph notes that trade preferences, as well as investment from overseas and private sector sources, could play a valuable role in creating the above-mentioned inclusive growth, and thus “[allow] all people to improve their lives and meet their aspirations.” 

Additionally, that objective also has a sub-paragraph devoted to skills development and training, along with another sub-paragraph focusing on donor collaboration among development and humanitarian agencies. It also includes a full section devoted specifically to the role of a changing climate, as well as the impact of natural disasters and other environmental concerns, in influencing migrant movements and leading to the displacement of populations most vulnerable to these pressures. The section also refers to possible steps governments and other stakeholders can take to address these risks.

Earlier this year, the World Bank warned that climate change, if left unabated, could create a massive escalation of internal migration within countries, hitting up to 140 million migrants by mid-century. 

Objective 6, meanwhile, deals with decent work, including the adoption and implementation of labour rights policies and laws. This includes, for example, taking steps to improve “supply chain transparency” to ensure that violations of labour laws are tackled appropriately. This has been an area of growing international concern in recent years, including in the context of trade accords, as well as in other agreements focusing on the role of the private sector and national governments in fostering safer working environments abroad. Other references to labour policies or laws throughout the text include ensuring migrants can participate in trade unions, along with ensuring that labour mobility policies are “gender-responsive.” 

Objective 18 also focuses on the contribution of migrants to the economy, with this section focusing both on facilitating skills development and ensuring that migrant skills are recognised outside their countries of origin. The text includes multiple references to the importance of mutual recognition of skills and training, including in the context of trade agreements. 

Other aspects of the compact’s overall text deal with issues such as facilitating and cutting costs in transferring remittances abroad, which involve money transfers from people overseas to those back home, often for supporting family members. The text also calls for making it easier “for migrants and diasporas [to] fully contribute to sustainable development in all countries.” Tackling discrimination, ensuring basic access to public services, fighting human trafficking, and facilitating social cohesion and inclusion are among the various other dimensions of the compact. 

Evaluating progress

The text concludes with a section outlining how UN members intend to review the compact’s effects, including using an existing forum within the UN General Assembly and revamping it as an “International Migration Review Forum” that will meet on a quadrennial basis and issue “declarations” on advances to date. More details on how this forum will work are pending, and will be determined following consultations among governments, which are planned for next year. 

The first such meeting of this new forum will be in 2022, and will look at steps being taken at multiple levels, ranging from national and sub-national to worldwide, to implement the compact. The forum will also look at how this work relates to the achievement of the UN’s 2030 Agenda and SDGs. This final section also highlights the role that other forums and stakeholder groups, national, international, or otherwise, can play in supporting this review process. 

ICTSD reporting.

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