Signing the Global Compact on Migration (GCM): One Step towards Better International Cooperation
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14 DEC 2018 Spotlight
At the Intergovernmental Conference in Marrakesh (10 December), 164 countries signed the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. It strengthens the protection of human rights of migrants and creates a framework for closer collaboration of states in migration management.

What is it?

The GCM is the first intergovernmentally negotiated document to comprehensively regulate all aspects of migration and to facilitate cooperation between states in the international movement of people. It does not apply to refugees, for whom a separate Global Compact on Refugees will be adopted soon. The GCM is legally non-binding and its aim is to promote standards regarding the treatment of migrants. It lists 23 objectives and the corresponding political commitments of the states to be implemented through dozens of concrete actions. It vows, among others, to address the causes of migration, enhance the availability of pathways for regular migration, save the lives of migrants, and fight smuggling and trafficking of people. It proposes solutions for better integration of migrants, combating discrimination, cheaper transfers of remittances and cooperation on return and readmission.

Why did some states not sign the GCM?

The draft agreement was approved under the auspices of the UN in July this year by 192 countries, but ultimately the document was not signed by nearly 30. Among them are the U.S., Australia, Israel and several EU members—Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Italy. These countries have indicated as the reasons, among others, what they consider to be an imprecise distinction between regular and irregular migrants, the risk of increasing irregular migration and limiting the sovereignty of countries. In addition, some provisions (e.g., restrictions on the detention of migrants, access to social services) are in contradiction with the practices in several countries. By not signing the GCM, they protect themselves from possible claims or political pressure to enforce the rights contained in the compact. Nor will they be bound by the norms of customary international law that could in the future arise as a result of the use of the pact.

What are the benefits of adopting the GCM?

The main effect of the GCM’s adoption is to strengthen the international system of human rights protection by confirming these rights specifically in relation to migrants. The agreement is also intended to increase the benefits of migration, including a contribution to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Therefore, its aim is to facilitate legal migration while reducing its irregular form. A framework for cooperation between states is created, including in the area of ​​collecting and exchanging data on migration, identifying migrants and granting them identity documents. The GCM also confirms the “obligation of States to readmit their own nationals,” which is important for efficient readmission. The compact explicitly “reaffirms the sovereign right of states to determine their national migration policy” (Art. 15 GCM) protect borders (Art. 27) or to diversify access to social services (Art. 31).

What are the GCM’s main weaknesses and shortcomings?

The withdrawal of a group of states from the GCM, including those important destination countries for migration, weakens the significance and universal character of this document. This can be interpreted as an expression of the weakening attachment of these governments to the protection of human rights. The lack of full consensus on the role of migration also reflects the anti-globalist and anti-immigrant attitudes present in many countries of the global North. For some, the GCM does not include enough provisions to help prevent irregular migration. At the same time, creating such a wide catalogue of migrants’ rights means that many provisions will not be applied in practice. The lack of unanimity is ultimately also a failure of the EU, which was unable to speak with one voice on the global forum, despite being one of the initiators and promoters of the document.

What are the next steps?

The GCM will be formally adopted in a vote at the UN General Assembly on 19 December. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has expressed his wish that countries that have not signed the agreement will sill recognise its value for their societies and join in “this common venture.” The compact does not create new structures or additional funds. As an intergovernmental initiative, the responsibility for its implementation rests with the signatory states. They can, however, count on support, for example, in building national capacities related to migration, from the newly launched UN Network on Migration, managed by the International Organisation for Migration. Progress in the implementation of the compact will be reviewed every four years at the International Migration Review Forum (first in 2022) and relevant regional platforms..