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  Policy Brief 6 - Making the Global Compacts Work: What future for refugees and migrants?

Executive Summary

In September 2016, a High-Level Meeting on Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants (HLM) in New York City yielded a commitment by States to develop and adopt two Global Compacts: the Global Compacts on Refugees (GCR) and the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). Though both Compacts are intended to be non-legally binding, they each articulate States’ common understandings and commitments to addressing challenges and the need for cooperation in the management of large-scale flows of refugees and migrants. At the time of writing, zero drafts of both Compacts have been revised following early discussions, but consultations and negotiations remain ongoing.

Key features of the draft Compacts

The aims of the GCR are: to improve burden- and responsibility-sharing for refugee protection among States; strengthen national protection systems and response capacities worldwide; enhance social and economic conditions for refugees and host communities; and resolve protracted situations of displacement through the achievement of durable solutions. To achieve these aims, the GCR proposes several new structures for international cooperation, including the convening of global refugee summits and the establishment of a Global Support Platform. It also endorses, albeit in a limited way, increasing the scope of international protection to include persons other than refugees who are without the protection of their own country. These would be welcome contributions to the international protection of refugees. However, other challenges remain. This policy brief provides a number of additional recommendations for how the GCR could further strengthen the rights of refugees and others in need of international protection. These relate to enhancing access to asylum, expanding opportunities for durable solutions, increasing funding and accountability, and ensuring the full participation of refugees in relevant processes.

The chief aim of the GCM is to express the collective commitment of States to improving cooperation on international migration. The current draft of the GCM expresses the intention that it be people-centred, build on human rights and sustainable development principles, and promote whole-of-society and whole-of-government approaches to migration. To achieve these goals, the GCM sets out 22 objectives, which could be usefully grouped into six main areas. These are: improvement of data and information; mechanisms to address the drivers of migration; measures to protect migrant rights; avenues of regular migration; steps to curtail irregular migration and provide border security; and options to encourage (re)integration of migrants and promotion of development. This policy brief provides our recommendations for how the GCM could be further improved. This includes through: better protection for persons fleeing life-threatening situations; expanding pathways to legal admission for migrants; defining more precisely the term ‘vulnerable migrants’; and strengthening monitoring and accountability processes. This policy brief also identifies gaps and overlaps between the two Compacts, particularly with regard to internal movements of people and situations involving mixed migration flows.

We are cautiously optimistic about the future prospects of both the GCR and GCM. In their present forms, both Compacts have the potential to improve the lives of migrants and the capacities of States. If States maintain the commitments already made, and strengthen the Compacts in the ways recommended herein, they will have beneficial consequences in practice. Political leadership will be needed, however, to ensure that States follow through on their commitments and continue moving forward in strengthening their own capacities and those of the UN system to protect and find solutions for refugees, while also ensuring effective pathways for safe, orderly and regular migration.

Summary of recommendations

The Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) should:

  • expressly reference rights beyond those set out in the 1951 Refugee Convention, including rights accepted by States under the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), as well as those rights which are essential to refugees’ well-being and their ability to achieve self-reliance;
  • expressly recognise the right of every person to seek asylum, as prescribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
  • include targets relating to health and education, work opportunities, inclusion of refugees, and achievement of durable solutions, as well as expressing the need for enhanced funding;
  • expand its approach to accountability of all stakeholders to refugees, including that of States;
  • recognise and take into account the broader macro-economic policies which may have an impact on the capacities of host-States and communities to promote refugee protection;
  • adopt stronger language in favour of refugee inclusion and participation, particularly with respect to women and youth;
  • recognise more fully the international protection needs of groups other than refugees, including by adopting relevant language from the draft GCM; and
  • focus more specifically on protracted refugee situations, and call for concerted efforts to enhance refugee mobility as an alternative pathway to solutions.

The Global Compact on Migration (GCM) should:

  • set out more clearly the purpose of the Compact and its foundational vision and principles;
  • acknowledge the reality of migration to escape life-threatening situations, including natural disasters, climate change and various forms of violence;
  • identify the drivers of migration more robustly, as well as the linkages between migration and development;
  • acknowledge the relationship between international migration and internal migration and displacement, and make concrete recommendations on ways to improve protection and access to assistance and livelihood opportunities;
  • recognise the importance of migration other than for employment, including for family reunification, education, trade and investment;
  • define with more precision the class of ‘vulnerable migrants’, taking account of both socio-demographic and situational factors; and
  • review and revise proposals for monitoring implementation, and make recommendations for oversight instruments and mechanisms that will ensure progress and implementation.


The Kaldor Centre plays a vital role in developing legal, sustainable and humane solutions for displaced people around the world.