UN Leaders Report Progress on Global Compacts on Migration, Refugees

Original post by DELIA PAUL for IISD

A side event during the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) annual General Debate highlighted current progress toward two global compacts: one on refugees and the other on safe, orderly and regular migration. The discussions are an outcome of commitments made in the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which was adopted a year ago at the September 2017 UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants.

At the side event, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged Member States to ensure humane, compassionate and people-centered approaches that recognize every individual’s right to safety, protection and opportunity. He outlined five priority areas of action, including, first of all, re-establishing the international refugee protection regime. He reminded delegates that refugee protection is an obligation under existing international law, and that, while countries have the right to manage their borders responsibly, they also have a duty to protect the rights of refugees, “rather than abandoning them to overcrowded camps and abject poverty.” Guterres further called for: taking migration into account in all policy-making and international cooperation mechanisms; applying the full force of the law to human traffickers and smugglers, while ensuring protection of victims; creating more opportunities for regular, safe, legal migration, as “safe migration cannot be limited to the global elite;” and considering cooperation on migration in light of the changing labor needs in the global employment landscape, for example, with regard to the impacts of artificial intelligence technologies.

Guterres highlighted that South-South migration exceeds South-North migration, explaining that the number of refugees crossing from South Sudan to Uganda is three times as many as those entering the Mediterranean region.

Guterres highlighted that South-South migration exceeds South-North migration, despite stereotypes. He noted, for example, that little attention is given to those crossing from South Sudan to Uganda, although they number three times as many as those entering the Mediterranean region.

Louise Arbour, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration, reported on consultations around the global compact on migration, which have been conducted in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Global Migration Group. She advised Member States that Mexico will host a stocktaking meeting in early December, and that the UN Secretary-General’s report on migration, prepared with IOM, will be out by the end of 2017.

Arbour emphasized the interdependence of states in managing global migration, noting that most countries are at the same time states of origin, transit and destination. She highlighted migration’s “explicit place” in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and stressed that current policies are inadequate to deal with irregular migration and sudden large flows of people. She called on Member States to create policy responses that rest on “a sober understanding of reality and the existing imperatives of international law” and to avoid discourses that demonize migrants or disparage their contributions.

Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, reported on progress toward developing a global compact on refugees. He noted that thematic discussions have taken place and that formal consultations will begin in 2018. He reported that the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, which was annexed to the New York Declaration, has been applied in 11 countries to date: Costa Rica; Djibouti; El Salvador; Ethiopia; Guatemala; Honduras; Mexico; Panama; Somalia; Uganda; and Tanzania. Some of these countries have also adopted legislative and policy instruments that expand the access of migrants and refugees to education and jobs and facilitate their social and economic inclusion. Grandi noted growing engagement of various actors and institutions, including the World Bank, on this issue, and cautioned Member States not to underestimate the magnitude of the task ahead, warning that over the past year, there has been “an erosion of protection and a shrinking of space for solutions.”

UNGA President Miroslav Lajčák affirmed his Presidency’s commitment to the two global compacts, and anticipated that both would be adopted in 2018, urging all concerned to continue the current momentum.

On 13 September, Lajčák circulated a letter from the Permanent Representatives of Mexico and Switzerland, in their capacity as co-facilitators of the intergovernmental consultations on the migration compact. In the letter, the co-facilitators advise that Member States will need to adopt a resolution on modalities of an intergovernmental conference on migration, which was agreed would take place in 2018 (paragraph 13 of UN General Assembly resolution 71/280). The co-facilitators provide a proposed timeline of discussions: circulation of a zero-draft of the modalities resolution from the week of 25 September; a ‘first reading’ on the afternoon of 2 October; informal consultations on the morning of 5 October; and further informal consultations in the week of 23 October. On 31 October, discussion will be concluded and the resolution will be submitted to the Fifth Committee and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).

Another side event is planned for 22 September in New York, organized by the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), which will provide regional perspectives on the migration compact. Speakers at the event include the co-facilitators, Special Representative Arbour, and the heads of IOM and the Global Migration Group, as well as the Executive Secretaries of each of the UN regional commissions.

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