Author: Daniele Grippo
Representatives of 164 UN countries, meeting in Marrakech on December 10th and 11th, adopted the Global Compact, the UN pact on migration. The pact is intended to strengthen international collaboration for a safe, orderly and regular migration. The text, criticized by nationalists and anti-migrant forces, was adopted by acclamation with a hammer blow without a vote or signature. The agreement was definitively ratified on December 19th at the UN General Assembly. However, around 15 countries, including the United States and some EU Member States, have refused to join. With migration being on the top of most political agendas it seems contradictory to walk from such a pact. Is the world turning from cooperation to single-state-policies?
What is the Global Compact on Migration?
The global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration is a document signed by several states and promoted by the United Nations. It provides for the sharing of some general guidelines on migration policies, in an attempt to give a coordinated and global response to the phenomenon. The idea of sharing common principles regarding migration was born in New York in September 2016, when all 193 member states of the United Nations signed the so-called New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. The final version of the Global compact has approved this July in New York, formally adopted at a summit on December 10th and 11th in Morocco and then approved the 19th of the same month by 152 States. It has been characterized by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as a “roadmap to prevent suffering and chaos”.
The 41-page document sets 23 goals for strengthening the response to migrant smuggling, stopping the trafficking of persons and providing access to basic services for migrants. But the main challenge is to create an international network for the reception of migrants and refugees. It is estimated that there are 258 million migrants in the world, equal to 3.4% of the total population. Additionally, according to data provided by the UN Secretary-General, since 2000 around 60 thousand migrants have died at sea, in the desert and elsewhere.
The summit in Marrakech, which was supposed to bring together the 190 countries which signed the Pact of July, has been deserted by some countries, among which many are European nations. The first to withdraw from the Pact was the United States in 2017, followed by Hungary and Australia last July. Subsequently, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Italy, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Israel did not attend the summit and Switzerland awaits the pronouncement of its Parliament.
It is not surprising that the first to turn away from the Global Compact was the United States, which since 2002 have not ratified any international treaty in the field of human rights. In fact, in December 2017, even before the initial draft of the Global compact was presented, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would not take part in the negotiations.
Since last July, other countries have announced that they will not approve the Global Compact or have put forward strong reservations. The first was Hungary, which on July 24, in a statement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó declared that: “The primary issue for us is the security of Hungary and the Hungarian people, and this document is totally at odds with the country’s security interests”. He then added: “According to the Government’s position, the UN Global Compact for Migration is in conflict with common sense and also with the intent to restore European security”. Moreover, the Minister called the document extremist, dangerous, and encouragement to migration. Australia also criticized the Global Compact in July, despite having helped negotiate the deal. The Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton declared that the Australian government would not sign the document agreement on migration and he stated: “We’re not going to surrender our sovereignty. I’m not going to allow unelected bodies to dictate to us, to the Australian people [ …] They do not want us to go soft on borders.” In October, Austria, led by a coalition of centre-right and extreme right parties, criticized the Global Compact, confirming that it would not approve it. In the same month, the Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović announced that she did not intend to sign the Agreement. In November, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia announced that they would not participate in the negotiations. Israel also called off, while Switzerland announced that it would not participate in the Marrakech meeting as it could make a decision only after the end of the parliamentary debates on the Global Compact.
Italy has participated in all stages of the negotiations over the last two years and the foreign minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi defended the pact saying that “it will not be a legally binding act” and “there are principles of shared responsibility in the document regarding the management of immigration “. However, the interior minister Matteo Salvini was against the Global Compact, because it would put the so-called economic migrants and refugees on the same level.
In Belgium, the Global compact has split the government. Three of the four coalition have pledged to approve the document. However, the majority party, the Flemish nationalist N-Va formation, was against it. In fact, on November 14 a spokesman for Theo Francken (N-Va), secretary of state for asylum and migration policies, said that the country would not sign the document, embarrassing Prime Minister Charles Michel, who had said the exact opposite to the United Nations General Assembly. After that, the Prime Minister, with the support of a new majority in parliament, left for Morocco, where he approved the Global Compact on Immigration. Upon his return to Belgium, he subsequently resigned.
Division over the Global Compact
The Global Compact has underlined the division that exists in Europe on the migration issue and the far-right parties have strongly criticized it. However, it must be remembered that the document is not binding, and rather than what has been affirmed, it does not favour illegal or wild immigration. On the contrary, it could regulate migratory flows and help stop human trafficking through common principles and frameworks, which all countries and migrants could benefit from. We must also bear in mind that immigration is a global phenomenon and all countries should sit down and discuss it, instead of pretending that it does not concern them.
But it seems that the absence of some states is necessary to blame others in case of problems or failures. It could serve to say: I was not involved, I did not agree if it had been up to me things would have been different. Continuing in this direction, such reserved policies towards international cooperation will make countries like Australia, the United States, Switzerland, Poland, Italy and Hungary increasingly alone in an international framework.