The 2018 Global Compacts on Refugees and Migration

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On 19 September 2016, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a set of commitments to enhance the protection of refugees and migrants, known as the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. The Declaration reaffirms the importance of the international protection regime, and commits States to strengthening and enhancing mechanisms to protect people on the move. It paves the way for the adoption of two new Global Compacts in 2018: one on refugees, and one for safe, orderly and regular migration.

In the New York Declaration, States:

  • expressed profound solidarity with those who are forced to flee;
  • reaffirmed their obligations to fully respect the human rights of refugees and migrants;
  • pledged their robust support to those countries affected by large movements of refugees and migrants; 
  • underlined the centrality of international cooperation to the refugee protection regime; 
  • recognized the burdens that large movements of refugees place on national resources, especially in the case of developing countries; and  
  • agreed to work towards the adoption of a Global Compact on Refugees and a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

As Professor Elizabeth Ferris, who was closely engaged in the process, observed in a policy brief for the Kaldor Centre, the Declaration’s ‘reaffirmation of core principles of refugee protection was not a foregone conclusion, especially given the xenophobic climate in which the document was negotiated’.  

We are now entering the consultation phase for the two Compacts, which involve a series of meetings with a wide variety of stakeholders. The Migration Compact will then shift to a more formal series of negotiations by States, culminating in an intergovernmental conference at which the Compact will be presented for adoption, to be held immediately before the opening of the general debate of the UN General Assembly in 2018. By contrast, the High Commissioner for Refugees has been requested by the General Assembly to present a proposal for the Refugee Compact in his 2018 report to the General Assembly, which States will then consider for adoption. Neither Global Compact will be a legally binding document, even though each may in part reflect binding rules of international law.

The two processes are separate, distinct and independent, as spelt out in the modalities resolution on the process to be followed for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.


Author: Jane McAdam