The 2018 Global Compacts on Refugees and Migration

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What are the Global Compacts?

On 19 September 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, a set of commitments to enhance the protection of 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. In it, States commit to work towards the adoption of a Global Compact on Refugees and a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. While neither Compact will be a legally binding document, many see their negotiation as an important opportunity to improve the international community’s response to refugees and migrants.

What is the process for drafting the Global Compacts?

The processes for development and adoption of the two Compacts are separate and distinct. The Refugee Compact will be developed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in consultation with States and other actors. UNHCR set out a roadmap for the process. In 2017, several consultations were held, including UNHCR–NGO Consultations, five thematic discussions, and the High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges. A zero draft of the Compact was circulated in January 2018, and a first draft in March 2018. Formal consultations with States will take place until July 2018, with input from other stakeholders, including refugees, experts and the private sector. The High Commissioner for Refugees will present the final proposed Compact in his 2018 report to the UN General Assembly.

The Migration Compact will be developed through a process of intergovernmental negotiation, led by co-facilitators Mexico and Switzerland, with assistance from the Secretariat of the UN and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). From April to November 2017, a series of consultations took place with a wider variety of stakeholders. Following a period of stocktaking, a ‘zero draft’ of the Compact was released in February 2018, and a revised draft in March 2018. Until July 2018, the Compact is subject to a more formal series of negotiations by States. The Compact will be adopted at a special summit in Morocco in December 2018.

What is in the Refugee Compact?

The text of the Refugee Compact will continue to change through the consultation process. Draft one of the Compact sets out four goals: an improved system of burden- and responsibility-sharing; strengthened national protection systems and response capacities worldwide; enhanced socio-economic conditions for refugees and host communities; and greater efforts to resolve protracted refugee situations. The Compact has two main parts: a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) and a Programme of Action.

The CRRF was already adopted as an annex to the New York Declaration. It has four main areas of focus: rapid and well-supported reception and admissions; support for immediate and ongoing needs (eg. protection, health, education); assistance for local and national institutions and communities receiving refugees; and expanded opportunities for solutions.

The Programme of Action has been the main focus of consultations and has two main parts. The first addresses mechanisms to achieve more equitable and predictable responsibility-sharing amongst States. New proposals include the convening of global refugee summits encouraging States to pledge various forms of support, and a Global Support Platform to mobilise support and solutions for specific refugee situations. The second part sets out specific areas to which States and other stakeholders are called to contribute, particularly reception and admission; meeting the needs of refugees and supporting host communities; and solutions.

What is in the Migration Compact?

As set out in its draft ‘Vision and Guiding Principles’, the Migration Compact ‘expresses [States’] collective commitment to improving cooperation on international migration’. Drafts suggest that it will focus on 22 objectives, to be fulfilled through numerous actionable commitments:

  1.  Collect and utilise accurate, disaggregated data as a basis for evidence-based policies;
  2.  Minimise the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their country of origin;
  3.  Provide adequate and timely information at all stages of migration;
  4.  Provide all migrants with proof of legal identity, proper identification and documentation;
  5.  Enhance availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration;
  6.  Facilitate fair and ethical recruitment and safeguard conditions that ensure decent work;
  7.  Address and reduce vulnerabilities in migration;
  8.  Save lives and establish coordinated international efforts on missing migrants;
  9.  Strengthen the transnational response to smuggling of migrants;
  10.  Prevent and combat trafficking in persons in the context of international migration;
  11.  Manage borders in an integrated, secure and coordinated manner;
  12.  Strengthen certainty and predictability in migration procedures;
  13.  Use migration detention only as a measure of last resort and work towards alternatives;
  14.  Enhance consular protection, assistance and cooperation throughout the migration cycle;
  15.  Provide access to basic services for migrants;
  16.  Empower migrants and societies to realise full inclusion and social cohesion;
  17.  Eliminate all forms of discrimination and promote fact-based public discourse to shape perceptions of migration;
  18.  Invest in skills development and facilitate recognition of skills, qualifications and competences;
  19.  Create conditions for migrants and diasporas to fully contribute to sustainable development in all countries;
  20.  Promote faster, safer and cheaper transfer of remittances and foster financial inclusion of migrants;
  21.  Cooperate in facilitating dignified and sustainable return, readmission and reintegration;
  22.  Establish mechanisms for the portability of social security entitlements and earned benefits.

The draft proposes mechanisms for review of progress, replacing the UN sponsored High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development with an International Migration Review Forum, which would meet every four years. The text of the Compact will continue to change over the course of negotiations.

Will the Compacts make a difference?

Both Compacts are still under negotiation and the final commitments they contain – and indeed, whether they are adopted – are yet to be seen. A range of recommendations have been made for improvement on the existing draft Compacts. Amongst the gaps that have been noted are the omission of internally displaced persons from both Compacts, and a lack of clarity about how to respond to those in need of international protection who fall outside the refugee definition. Ultimately, whether the Compacts make a difference to the lives of refugees and migrants will depend on the political will of States to develop and implement commitments in this regard.

Further information

For deeper analysis of the draft Compacts and recommendations for their improvement, see T. Alexander Aleinikoff and Susan Martin, Making the Global Compacts Work: What future for refugees and migrants? (Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law Policy Brief No 6, April 2018)

See also Elizabeth Ferris, In Search of Commitments: The 2016 Refugee Summits (Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law Policy Brief No 3, November 2016)