163 states just approved the Global Compact for Migration. Now what?

11 December 2018
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The Global Compact for Migration adoption site, Marrakesh, Morocco, 2018 © Helen Dempster, ODI

On Monday 163 countries approved the new Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) – the first comprehensive international agreement to address global human mobility.

Over the past two years, ODI has been closely engaged in the various consultations, negotiations and debates because we believe that the GCM represents an unprecedented opportunity for states to cooperatively address the reality of global migration.

The approval of the GCM in Marrakech, Morocco was a landmark moment. But some countries are still considering their options and any agreement will only be as good as its implementation. So the question now is: what’s next?

Marta Foresti: politics, as always, will be key

A pact worth fighting for’ – this is how Angela Merkel concluded her passionate speech in Marrakech, recalling the history of her native Germany and the fact that the United Nations (UN) was founded to combat nationalism. Yet not all member states agree, with a growing number deciding (some at the very last minute) to withdraw from the GCM.

This is certainly disappointing. Switzerland, having led the negotiations and invested much political capital to ensure a positive result, succumbed to domestic political pressures resulting in empty seats in Marrakech. Italy followed suit. Then Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil. Others are still considering their options ahead of the formal adoption of the GCM by the UN General Assembly next week.

Much has been said about those opting out, but less about those opting in – why they did so and what they will do next.

Firstly, on their own, international agreements don’t change the world: they require political leadership, which in recent years has been in very short supply. In my view, the political process leading up to the GCM can be a basis to begin to reverse this trend. In reaction to some political leaders emphasising national interest, a growing number of voices are highlighting the importance and necessity of cooperation between states to address the reality of global migration. In practice states need to make deals if they want to achieve their own priorities: the GCM offers a common set of principles, a range of options and a political platform to facilitate this.  

Secondly, the GCM will work differently in different regions. Europe and North America are only marginally affected by global migration. Asian, Latin American and African countries, by contrast, hold the vast majority of migrants; they are planning to use the GCM to enhance and reinforce their existing commitments, learn from each other’s experiences and share them on the global stage.

And finally, nationalist and increasingly xenophobic forces have made great efforts to try to stop this process. They haven’t succeeded. Those who have resisted these efforts, such as mayors and youth leaders (who were in Marrakech to commit to the GCM) are gaining a louder and increasingly powerful voice.

In the words of the formidable Louise Arbour: ‘we have been able to tackle an issue that was long seen as out-of-bounds for a truly concerted global effort.’ The road ahead of us is long, but the GCM offers concrete opportunities for change.

Ambassador David Donoghue: the UN system needs to rise to the challenge

Despite the overwhelming attention surrounding the Marrakech summit, and who was coming or going, the GCM is not a one-off event. It is the world's first detailed agreement on how to manage this most fundamental of human conditions: the age-old practice of people moving from one part of the planet to another, trying to create better lives for themselves and their families. It will require sustained engagement and commitment from all – governments, the private sector, civil society and many other stakeholders.

It is a framework in which states can work together to create a fairer and more sustainable regime for migrants in any part of the world. As we heard frequently in Marrakech, no country can solve these issues on its own: the GCM shows how international cooperation can be used to achieve benefits for migrants and host societies alike. The framework now agreed is not perfect but it is a good start, setting out a wide range of options from which governments can choose.

The UN system will make a major contribution, supporting and advising states on implementation. It will be very important to ensure that there is a joined-up approach to migration across the UN's many agencies and mechanisms and that all of the UN's resources are mobilised effectively in support of the GCM.

A key role will fall to the International Organization on Migration (IOM), under the able leadership of its new Director General, Antonio Vitorino. A member of the United Nations family since 2016, the IOM will have the responsibility of coordinating efforts across the system and ensuring continuing focus and visibility for the GCM and what it is setting out to achieve. IOM will lead a new UN Migration Review Network which has been formed for this purpose. The Network will bring states together within working groups to form work plans for cross-cutting issues and will provide capacity-building in migration policies and management.

The main global platform to review progress on implementation of the GCM will be a new International Migration Review Forum, which will meet at four-yearly intervals, beginning in 2022. This platform, to be managed by the UN Network, will give states the opportunity to exchange data and experiences and to discuss how they are faring with implementation. It will be important to ensure that lessons, whether positive or negative, are gathered from implementation experiences across the globe. The platform will also be used to consider GCM implementation in the wider context of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (a point made repeatedly in Marrakech this week).

Monitoring a non-binding agreement with no agreed benchmarks or targets is, of course, challenging. However, in addition to the four-yearly International Migration Review Forum, there will be a number of other processes that will enable us to keep track of implementation on an ongoing basis. The Global Forum on Migration and Development will provide space for informal exchanges. Regional platforms and processes will have a role to play (bearing in mind that most migration takes place within regions). And fora such as IOM's International Dialogue on Migration will also make an important contribution, helping to disseminate best practices and innovative approaches.

Altogether these fora will, I hope, facilitate detailed monitoring and evaluation of the steps being taken by states to implement the GCM. The emphasis should be on mutual support, lesson-learning and partnership. Given the close links between migration and the 2030 Agenda, states will also have opportunities to report on their GCM implementation in the context of their wider reporting on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. The annual meetings of the High Level Political Forum (HLPF), where countries present their ‘voluntary national reviews’ and consider a variety of thematic priorities, are one such opportunity. Another will be the summit-level meeting of the HLPF, to take place in September 2019, where issues of cross-cutting interest across the Agenda are likely to feature.

From the negotiations on the GCM, and also on the preceding New York Declaration, it is clear that in certain parts of the world there is little appetite for international scrutiny and accountability in relation to migration policy and commitments. This is a political reality with which we must live, and Marrakech provided renewed evidence of it. The UN will have a delicate task to perform as it tries to support states in their implementation of the GCM, treading a fine line between respecting national sensitivities and maintaining a clear focus on the many commitments entered into by states in this agreement.

Helen Dempster: migration and development will have to come together

We’ve come a long way in 20 years. As Ambassador Laura Thompson, Deputy Director General of the International Organization for Migration, said at our side event:

‘When I joined the IOM, I asked why migration wasn’t included in the Millennium Development Goals. I was told migration was about human rights, not development.’

Today, the GCM is strongly rooted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and I heard state after state speak about migrants as agents for development. But even this doesn’t go far enough. As Michael Clemens, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development, put it:

‘Migration is a part of the development process. You can't talk about one affecting the other – they are completely interlinked. It’s like saying blood affects the body – it makes no sense, they are one.’

So how do we take this forward?

Firstly, by working with and learning from development actors to better mainstream migration throughout their programming.

We were very fortunate to have Pierre Heilbronn of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on our panel, speaking about their innovative practices and how multilateral development banks coordinate their support for economic migration and forced displacement. This is a great start, and it will be important to bring these actors into the migration fold.

Secondly, by better understanding the multiple links between migration and development and how this can inform practice.

Here, ODI is leading the way. Our work over the last two years has shown that migration has an impact on the achievement of all Sustainable Development Goals. Now, we are embarking on a new five-year project, MIGNEX, looking at the links between migration and development and using this knowledge to inform EU migration policy. We are very excited about the promise of MIGNEX to advance the objective of the compact: to promote evidence-based policy-making on human mobility.