Constance Trepanier examines the ideological conflicts caused by the 2018 Global Compact for Migration and the actual effectiveness of such treaties.
After months of debating, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants was finally adopted last July. Following this, representatives from more than 150 countries gathered in Marrakech to ratify the Global Compact for Migration on Monday 10th of December. This Global Compact is one of the first intergovernmental agreements aiming at improving governance on migration and comprehensively addressing its current challenges.
Promoting ‘safe, orderly and regular migration’, the compact could have convinced several Western countries worried about recent migration ‘flows’ and the need to regain national borders’ control. However, 15 countries (mostly European) have either declared their withdrawal or communicated a freezing order. In fact, six countries alongside the United States have dropped out of talks and withdrawn from the process, including Austria and Poland. Additionally, Belgium, Italy and four other European countries have called for more internal consultation. On a positive note, Canadian and European representatives, including German, Spanish, French, and Portuguese governments, have expressed a more favorable position. Yet with this withdrawal’s domino effect, European cooperation regarding the migration crisis is shown to be deeply flawed and divided.
What does the Global Compact entail?
The pact lays out 23 objectives including the promotion of using ‘accurate and disaggregated data’. In fact, it emphasizes the requirement to produce empirically-tested policies and public discourse, both of which are key in shaping perceptions of migration. Should public discourse entail any form of discrimination, the pact incites countries to take actions against and penalize hate crimes targeting migrants. Additionally, countries are encouraged to enhance the ‘availability…of pathways for regular migration’, and limit their use of migration detention to last resort. Finally, it highlights the obligation to ‘save lives’ and provide migrants access to basic services with the development of ‘procedures and agreements on search and rescue of migrants’.
Why do these European countries fear UN standards and a legally non-binding agreement?
Two days prior to the adoption of the Global Compact, Marine Le Pen and representatives from the Flemish nationalist party, the Czech Republic, and Steve Bannon, the former advisor to Donald Trump, organized a meeting in Brussels. They claimed the agreement was a pact with the ‘devil’ and ‘suicidal’. They expressed a feeling that the pact was ripping sovereignty off their country and giving migration rights to some people who should not have them.
The agreement seems feared because the very countries that withdrew are direct targets of the Compact. Despite not being binding, the Compact serves as first steps towards appropriate standards of responding to migration and welcoming individuals in a decent way. Indeed, the text recognizes that migrants and refugees have ‘similar vulnerabilities and common challenges’, are ‘entitled to the same rights’, although ‘governed by separate legal frameworks’. The text – in a subtle manner – allows the possibility of disregarding the reason for migration to prioritize the protection of individuals’ basic rights. Most importantly, the agreement is feared because it challenges the state’s role in abuse and discrimination suffered by migrants globally. It also highlights potential political repercussions of the migration crisis in the form of nationalist and extreme-right rhetoric.
The Global Compact for Migration is a reaction to many situations, from the controversial Dublin Regulation system to accounts of police brutality against migrants. It also addresses unfounded securitization of migration issues by nationalist movements. Additionally, the Compact is a reaction to the thousands of lives abused on land and lost at sea. It reminds Western countries, far from performing their international cooperation and ‘burden-sharing’ initiatives, of the human dignity and human rights entitlements of migrants and refugees.
Although the agreement goes too far for some and not far enough for others, it nonetheless provides a lesson to European countries on re-establishing necessary human rights framework when tackling the migration crisis.