Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 August 2020

UN's global migration pact draws US ire days before signing

Domestic politics, America's rejection and numerous no-shows could overshadow conference in Morocco

It took three years to put together but the UN's response to the migration crisis of 2015 is at risk of being nobbled by the United States and other countries who oppose the agreement and will stay away from a major event in Morocco next week where the international plan is to be signed.

America renewed its criticism of The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration on Friday in a extraordinary and lengthy statement that outlined its objections .

Although the UN document is non-binding and guarantees that nation states retain sovereignty over migration, the plan's aims have drawn fire in a political climate where anti-immigration policies are being advanced by the Trump administration and several European governments.

“The United States proclaims and reaffirms its belief that decisions about how to secure its borders, and whom to admit for legal residency or to grant citizenship, are among the most important sovereign decisions a State can make, and are not subject to negotiation, or review, in international instruments, or forums,” the US mission to the United Nations said in its latest statement.

The UN document has also been fiercely contested in numerous European states, including Belgium, where the government is on the brink of collapse because a right-wing coalition partner is opposed to the pact.

“It is way too pro-migration. It does not have the nuance that it needs to have to also comfort European citizens,” Theo Francken, Belgium's migration minister said on Thursday. “It's not legally binding, but it's not without legal risks,” he added.

Most of the UN's 193 members will send delegates to the event on Monday and Tuesday in Marrakech. Besides the US, Australia and Israel have rejected the agreement, as has the far-right government of Viktor Orban in Hungary.

Italy, Poland, Austria and the Czech Republic have also refused to recognise it, a step that will undermine the pact's effectiveness given that recent years of increased migration in all of those countries. Slovakia and Bulgaria have also suggested that they may not sign up.

Denmark and the Netherlands, meanwhile, have struggled to rally political support for the compact and it has also divided politicians in Germany, where Angela Merkel's open door policy led to her losing support among voters.


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The 34-page non-binding compact, agreed in July, aims to support safe and orderly migration, reduce people trafficking and ensure basic human rights for all migrants. It is the first intergovernment negotiated agreement to cover all dimensions of international migration. It does not, however, cover refugees whose affairs are already addressed by global agreements including the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

The Marrakesh event will see countries debate migration topics before formally endorsing the plan which grew out of a UN resolution adopted in October 2016, a year after Europe was tackling its worst migration crisis since the Second World War with around one million people having headed there.

Despite the Marrakech forum being seen as a rubber stamp for the compact, Susan Fratzke, a policy analyst at Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank, said the forum will likely be the beginning rather than the end of efforts for a global strategy on how to handle the movement of people between borders, given how contentious and divisive the issue has become.

“This has become political for some governments,” she said of the US and other withdrawals.

“It's a low cost measure they can take for their supporters, to try and keep them. But the compact will go forward, regardless, whether one, three, five or eight countries decide not to participate.

“The compact creates the potential for dialogue.”

According to the UN there are 258 million migrants worldwide who are living outside their country of birth. The figure is expected to continue to grow because of increased connectedness, globalisation, conflict and labour flows.

At least 60,000 people have died since 2000, while crossing the sea, travelling through inhospitable territories or while being held in custody as a result of their migration.

Countries signing up to the compact have committed to 23 objectives, which include “providing basic services for migrants” and using “detention only as a measure of last resort.”

Nations should also cooperate in “facilitating safe and dignified return and readmission” for those deemed able to return to their home countries, the compact says. It would forbid the collective expulsion of migrants who face a “real and foreseeable risk of death, torture, and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment.”

The lack of infrastructure in host countries handling arrivals – a major complaint among anti-immigration activists – and the deaths of people undertaking long journeys are also addressed.

The UN maintains that the compact is essential as the global nature of migration means governments need to agree on at least some universal standards and safeguards.

The US in December 2017 was the first country to announce it would not sign the migration compact. The Trump administration has since taken an increasingly hostile view toward cross-border migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, recently sending troops to its border with Mexico to deter a caravan of Hondurans heading north.

But America and other opposed nations will only harm themselves in the long term by shunning the new agreement, according to Louise Arbour, the UN's special representative for international migration.

“It's for them and for their citizens to ask themselves where it leaves them as international players on difficult complex global issues,” she said of countres who have opted out.

“The text specifically says that national authorities are at full liberty to have policies that distinguish between regular and irregular migrants.”

Updated: December 9, 2018 06:18 PM



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