The Global Compact for Migration is gaining traction at the UN despite some countries’ reluctance to aid the free flow of people.
Louise Arbour, the UN special representative for international migration, is developing a pact to help the safe travel of migrants.
It is not to be mistaken with the asylum seekers convention, which is handled by UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Ms Arbour and others in the UN are working on a non-legally binding agreement that will help to protect and create a framework for those who want to migrate.
Today, there are 25 million refugees, another 45 million internally displaced people and 258 million migrants who, unlike refugees, move country for reasons ranging from studying to the effects on their homelands of climate change.
“The compact is not to stop migration or encourage it, but to facilitate safe and orderly migration while discouraging and eliminating chaotic migration, the likes of which Europe saw from the Syrian conflict,” Ms Arbour said.
The accord will promote initiatives such as the Missing Migrants project, which records how many have died making the journey to Europe across the Mediterranean.
Leonard Doyle, the spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration who runs the project, said a global pact would allow governments to negotiate agreements multilaterally.
Doing so will give more weight and confidence to countries to conduct safe and productive migration.
“The compact is the first time the UN acknowledges that migration can’t be solved by one country,” Mr Doyle said. “There are countries that are anti-migrants but others are making deals, and the fact that they’re collaborating gives value for the global compact.
But Ms Arbour said that migration was a touchy subject.
“There’s a reason there’s been a willingness to talk about free flow of trade or goods, but not of people,” she said.
Others who work in migration echoed Ms Arbour’s sentiment, telling The National that more world leaders today were becoming elected partly, if not mostly, because they opposed migration.
But her talks in New York, which will continue today, have succeeded in addressing an issue inherent in the world and best represented in the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe.
Mr Arbour said that most wanted to return to their countries but that the migration had been established, so most who fled or wanted to avoid a worsening situation at home applied for asylum.
Those who do, like the millions from Syria, are kept in limbo for months and sometimes years, and end up working in informal economies anyway.
Ms Arbour said that host countries had to allow more kinds of migrants to apply for legal working status, to avoid the long and tedious process of applying for asylum.
“We persuaded many to open avenues of access so that these people can work,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be permanent – not everyone wants to move permanently. People just want the opportunity to work and return to their homes after some time.”
Ms Arbour is working with the Europeans and others to expand the categories for migrants and provide them with access to formal labour markets.
She said that many who moved wanted to work in the country, develop skills or, in the case of displaced migrants, avoid a worsening situation in their home countries while still making a livelihood.
“A lot of people if they just manage to get somewhere will work in the informal economy, washing dishes or what-not, they will find work. But then you’ve created a population that cannot work,” Ms Arbour said.
Climate change is another pressing issue for migration. UN officials working on migration are taking pre-emptive measures to guide those who are displaced by climate change-related issues.
Those living in coastal cities or island atolls are becoming increasingly displaced with the raising sea levels.
Ms Arbour, along with organisations such as the International Organisation for Migration, is trying to create guidelines for ways in which people can move and continue their lifestyles.
The Intergovernmental Conference to Adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration will be held in Marrakech, Morocco on December 10 and 11.