Global Compact on Migrants: Does it say anything new?
Miguel Angel Velasco cmf
Member of the Claretian Team at the United Nations.
Master in Development S. and Diplomacy. UNITAR
The data are shocking. In 2020, 82.4 million people were forcibly displaced. On June 18, 2021, these were the disaggregated figures: 20.7 million refugees under the mandate of UNHCR; 5.7 million Palestinian refugees under the mandate of UNRWA; 40 million internally displaced persons in their countries; 4.1 million asylum seekers. On the same date of June 18, the distribution by country was as follows: 6.7 million Syrians; 4 million Venezuelans; 2.6 million Afghans; 2.2 million South Sudanese; 1.2 million Myanmarese; 7.9 million of other nationalities or of no defined nationality.
Major host countries: Turkey (3.7 million), Colombia (1.7 million), Pakistan (1.4 million), Uganda (1.4 million), Germany (1.2 million). It is estimated that 82.4 million people have been forced to flee their homes; 26.4 million of them are refugees, more than half of them under 18 years of age. May 22, 2022, the UN announces that the number of displaced people in the world has reached a record 100 million.
UN begins to address the problem
The 2006 and 2023 High-Level Dialogues on International Migration and Development, resulted in the convening of the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants in New York (2016). This “New York Summit on Migrants and Refugees” contains the foundations for what will become the Global Compacts on Migration (Marrakesh, 2018) and Refugees (New York, 2018).
The New York Declaration (2016) distinguishes refugee status from migrant status. International refugee law was actually much more developed than migrant law due to the fact that the plight of refugees had to be addressed during the two world wars. The first international refugee law document was the “Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees” (1951). The New York Declaration (2016) addresses three urgencies: to establish the fundamental rights of all displaced persons; to define the working lines of status for migrants and to modify the already existing status for refugees. With the Declaration, the rights of migrants and refugees are recognized and substantiated; Perhaps one of the most significant paragraphs is this one that I transcribe:
“We reaffirm the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations. We also reaffirm the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recall the principal international human rights treaties. We reaffirm and will fully protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants, regardless of their status; all are rights holders. Our response will demonstrate full respect for international law and international human rights law and, where applicable, international refugee law and international humanitarian law.”
The Declaration presents the principles that will lead to the two global compacts, in two annexes: Annex I, “Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework”; Annex II “Towards a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.”
The Global Compact for Migration
In 2018, the “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration”, the Marrakesh Pact on Migrants, is adopted. Voting NO: United States, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland; abstaining: Algeria, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Chile, Italy, Libya, Liechtenstein, Romania, Switzerland, Singapore; absent from the floor: the Dominican Republic and Slovakia; the rest voted yes.
Among the 23 objectives, the following commitments are worth mentioning, which I take literally from the UN website, the bold is mine:
- Strengthen data-driven and human rights-based policymaking and public discourse on migration;
- Minimize the adverse drivers of migration, including combating poverty and discrimination, and addressing climate-related displacement and disasters; 3;
- Ensure migrants’ rights to information and legal identity;
- Expand and diversify the availability of avenues for safe, orderly, and regular migration, taking into account the particular needs of migrants in vulnerable situations;
- Protect the right to decent work and other labor rights of immigrants; 6;
- Address and reduce vulnerabilities and human rights violations in the context of migration;
- To protect the right to life in the context of migration;
- Combat human smuggling and trafficking, while protecting the human rights of those who have been smuggled or trafficked;
- Respect human rights at borders and conduct human rights-based screening, assessment and referral of migrants;
- Protect the right to liberty and freedom from arbitrary detention, including by prioritizing alternatives to immigration detention;
- Guarantee the right of migrants to access basic services, such as health, education and social support, without discrimination;
- Eliminate discrimination and combat incitement to hatred and xenophobia;
- Maintain prohibitions on collective expulsion and removal for all migrants, ensuring that return is safe and dignified and that reintegration is sustainable.
At the Marrakech Summit, a forum for reviewing compliance with the agreement is created; it meets every four years. From May 17 to 20, 2022, the First International Migration Review Forum 2022 took place.
Review of compliance with the Marrakesh Global Compact on Migration
During the week that the event lasted, UN experts, representatives of States, and representatives of NGOs and Stakeholders’ Organizations, we have been talking and listened to each other’s positions. The document that was submitted for voting was prepared by the internal services of the United Nations, the Civil Society with a significant number of faith-based NGOs, and, of course, by the representatives of the States. The aim was not to elaborate a new “Global Compact on Migration”, but to make a diagnosis of its implementation, clarify some concepts, and outline methodologies of engagement. In the presentations by Civil Society, Stakeholders and NGOs, there were many criticisms of the failure to comply with many of the points contained in the Pact. The representatives of the states, as usual, presented the great progress made in their respective countries and criticisms of non-compliance by other states outside their “orbit”.
The final Covenant Review document was approved by a large majority, although, as is usually the case, there were a number of countries that did not approve the document.
The summits on migrants and refugees are creating a set of norms and orientations that indicate where international law on Migration and Refugee issues is heading. The figures of personal tragedies due to forced migration offered at the beginning of this article are frightening; in the face of this situation, everything seems to be moving too slowly.
It is necessary to bear in mind that a treaty approved by a majority, even a qualified majority, in the UN General Assembly, needs to be ratified by the legislative system of each country. For this reason, we can find international treaties that are not binding in certain countries, since they have not been approved by their legislative bodies. We even find, with a certain degree of normality, countries that have included international treaties in their legislation and do not comply with them.
The UN is making a great effort to clarify the rights of migrants and the obligation of all countries to defend them, but the world order must function better. It is not enough to hold summits or adopt documents; the international order based on compliance with international treaties is coming under serious questioning. Also, with regard to migrants and refugees, we need a change in Governance and some new kind of World Government. The principles on “forcibly displaced persons” are becoming clearer by the day, but are not being adhered to in many cases.
The UN summit on migration did not bring any special novelties, neither in substance nor in form; the fundamentals are clearly stated in the Global Compact; what is needed is to put the Compact into practice and for all countries to take it on board. It is true that these summits help us not to forget what has already been approved as a global standard.
Miguel Ángel Velasco cmf