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Will next week’s migration compact be global?

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Will next week’s migration compact be global?

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The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) is a comprehensive document that covers different aspects of migration and provides a strong basis for global migration governance. 

However, nine of the United Nations’ (UN) 193 member states won’t be endorsing the GCM at an intergovernmental conference being held in Marrakech, Morocco, on 10 and 11 December. These are the United States, Australia, Hungary, Austria, Israel, Bulgaria, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Switzerland and Italy are not sending delegations.

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The aim of the conference is to adopt the final outcome document of the GCM, which was released in July 2018 after 18 months of negotiations. It will then be adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.

The final outcome document of the GCM covers a set of mutually reinforcing commitments to a global vision for safe, orderly and regular migration. These commitments are presented in its 23 objectives and 10 guiding principles. The objectives are clustered in six thematic areas: migrants’ human rights; drivers of migration; international cooperation and governance; contributions of migrants and the diaspora; smuggling and trafficking; and irregular migration and regular pathways.

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African countries contributed extensively towards the development of the GCM through the Common African Position (CAP) on the GCM. Adopted in January 2018 by the African Union, the CAP presents its stance under six thematic areas, which are in line with the GCM thematic areas.

The GCM is expected to contribute towards enhancing Africa’s migration governance in three key areas: redressing biased migration narratives on African migration, strengthening information and data systems and expanding a global partnership platform for African states.

The GCM can contribute significantly to redressing biased narratives on African migration. It calls for an open and evidence-based public discourse on migration to generate a more realistic, humane and comprehensive narrative.

Depicted by images of overcrowded boats, migrants drowning in the Mediterranean Sea and young people risking their lives crossing the Sahara Desert, the mainstream narrative is of Africans desperate to reach Europe. However over 80% of African migration is intra-continental, and African migrants account for a minor segment of the overall migrant population in many parts of the world.

The GCM also provides a good basis for strengthening African migration governance through enhancing information and data systems. It highlights the need to establish and strengthen regional research and training centres on migration such as the African Observatory for Migration and Development.

As most African migration is intra-continental, having a system for improved migration data collection and analysis can help African origin, transit and destination states to develop corresponding policies. 

Stephane Jaquemet, policy director of the International Catholic Migration Commission, argues that the GCM could expand global cooperation platforms for African states to engage their partners including Europeans to enhance their development efforts and expand legal pathways. Strengthening international cooperation and partnerships is one of the 23 objectives of the GCM, which refers to the need to support African states in implementing the compact.

But the GCM process is not without its problems. The United States withdrew from the process in December 2017 as it felt the ‘compact’s approach is simply not compatible with US sovereignty’. Hungary followed suit in July 2018 stating that the compact ‘encourages movement of people which are dangerous for the world’.

In October 2018, Austria said it wouldn’t sign the compact as it blurred the distinction between regular and irregular migrants. On 20 November, Australia said it wouldn’t either because it ‘reverses Australia’s hard-won successes in combating the people-smuggling trade’.

Last month, Switzerland (which together with Mexico co-chaired the Global Compact process) announced it would not attend the intergovernmental conference pending a parliamentary debate. As a co-chair, Switzerland’s absence is ‘unfortunate’, Ignacio Parker, executive director of the International Council of Voluntary Agencies, told ISS Today. He said the country’s absence would be noticeable given ‘its strong history of supporting the Global Forum on Migration and Development’. But Parker also mentioned that Switzerland’s absence in Marrakech does not necessarily mean it will not sign the compact.

Italy says it won’t be at Marrakech as it hasn’t finalised its national process. It might decide not to sign considering its recent election of a right-wing leader with strong anti-migration sentiments. In September 2018, Italy also adopted an anti-migrant decree that makes migrants’ expulsion easier. This is despite Italy’s progressive history of welcoming migrants.

Although the number of state withdrawals might double and reach 18, the GCM could still secure approval by 175 countries – 90% of UN member states. This will be a good result considering countries are divided on the topic of migration due to the sensitive nature of the issue.

In fact, once adopted by the UN General Assembly, the GCM would become the first intergovernmental agreement on migration to be adopted by the UN in its 73 years of existence. The fact that the countries reached a consensus on the final outcome document is in itself a success.

Following the adoption, African countries should use the GCM as a basis to develop better continental migration governance systems. They should consider designing GCM implementation roadmaps linked to the respective countries’ development, trade and investment policies.

Lessons should be drawn from existing best practices like the national coordination mechanisms within the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Among the IGAD member states, Kenya’s national coordination mechanism is a good example, providing a platform for stakeholders to review the country’s draft national migration policy through a holistic and consultative process.

Written by Tsion Tadesse Abebe, Senior Researcher, Migration Programme, ISS

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