Globally, migration and refugee issues dominate headlines and have become a key policy priority for many governments and civil societies. The current global estimate is that there were 244 million international migrants in the world in 2015, an estimated 3.3% of the global population. Concurrently, the world faces an upturn in forced migration with 23 million refugees and asylum-seekers and an estimated 40 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in 2017. IDPs are not covered in the agreements. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) unanimously agreed to the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants on 19 September 2016, which marked the start of a two-year intergovernmental negotiation. It included three bold commitments to: (1) start negotiations leading to an international conference and the adoption of a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration; (2) develop guidelines on the treatment of migrants in vulnerable situations; and (3) achieve a more equitable sharing of the burden and responsibility for hosting and supporting the world’s refugees by adopting a global compact on refugees. As the process draws to a close, the international community has undergone significant shifts in its political landscape with a new United Nations Secretary-General and a new United States administration which withdrew US participation in the non-binding process in 2017. It is therefore important to highlight some key achievements and challenges to realise the New York Declaration.
Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM)
Over the past two years, international negotiations have identified 23 objectives to better manage migration. These include commitments to mitigate adverse drivers and structural factors that hinder people in their country of origin; to reduce risks and vulnerabilities migrants face in their journeys; to address concerns of states and communities while recognising the demographic, economic, social and environmental shifts underway and the implications these have on migration; and to develop conducive environments for migrants to contribute to their new communities. These are founded on a set of cross-cutting and interdependent human security guiding principles. While the comprehensive nature of these principles is clear, one critique of the current document is the need to develop and include a tangible work plan to ensure accountability and transparency. In this way, the GCM could further develop linkages between global commitments and regional organisations to craft these work plans in line with local capacities, whilst remaining committed to the cooperative framework of the New York Declaration. As we head to the intergovernmental conference in Marrakech, Morocco, this coming December, it will be important to see how the declaration made two years ago is turned into action.
Global Compact for Refugees (GCR)
The GCR negotiations over the past two years have had four key objectives: to ease pressures on host countries; enhance self-reliance; expand access to third country solutions; and support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity. The negotiations led by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have sought to achieve these through the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, as unanimously agreed in New York, and to develop an action plan. However, it remains unclear how the compact will rework the system towards global ownership and participation of accountable decision-makers and responsibility-owners. A strong commitment on this would recognise the participation of countries in the Global South beyond broad commitments already found in the New York Declaration towards a truly Comprehensive Refugee Framework and a more predictable and equitable sharing of responsibility. If there is a tangible reworking of the system, it will be clear in the annual report to the UNGA by the UNHCR this November.