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165 countries sign the UN Global Compact for Migration, as big members like the US opt out

Updated: Apr 14, 2019

The first international treaty to tackle migration was discussed and signed on Monday in Marrakech, after being distinctly rejected by the United States and many countries of the EU.

The Global Compact for Safe and Orderly Migration is the first internationally negotiated agreement that covers all aspects of migration to ensure proper handling of migrants and migration flows. It aims to promote cooperation among countries regarding policy and safety, safeguarding the dignity of migrants and supporting countries that receive large numbers of refugees and migrants. As Newsweek described it: it seeks to affirm that "migration is an issue which is best managed on a collective basis, and that migration should be safe, orderly and regular," according to a U.N. briefing.

The pact is not legally binding but encourages member countries to properly deal with irregular migration. Countries that rejected it include Poland, Austria and Croatia, most of them pointing to issues of state sovereignty that would have to be sacrificed in the name of this collective basis.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel received a standing ovation after a powerful speech defending the compact, saying the United Nations was founded after World War II, partly as a response to the “incredible suffering on humankind”, adding that human rights apply to “every person on our planet”.

The Obama administration originally backed the compact, but then the Trump administration refused to sign in 2017, making the US and Australia the most notable absences in Marrakech.

The controversy surrounding the compact comes as a surprise to many, since the it requires no hard policy changes nor enforces any particular regulations. It is a non-binding agreement that encourages participation, in a similar way that the Paris Agreement mixes binding and non-binding clauses that countries can adhere to at the degree they deem appropriate.

The issue with the compact appears to be political: since anti-migration rhetoric is at the forefront of most debates around the world recently, accepting a compact that delineates, however non-bindingly, a protocol to tackle migration seems like succumbing to a narrative that is not aligned with some countries’ political agenda.

Ernesto Araújo, Brazil’s future foreign minister, took to Twitter to inform that Brazil will also be withdrawing from the GMC after president-elect Jair Bolsonaro is sworn into office this January, saying that migration is not a global issue but a national one that should be treated depending on the unique needs and strengths of each country.

President-elect Jair Bolsonaro

Australia is another country that distinctly rejected the compact, as they have many offshore detention centres they channel migrants to, like Nauru, termed the “refugee dumping ground” by The Guardian. Australia is adamant about their tough asylum regulations, relying on sites like Nauru or others in Papua New Guinea to process migrants, which often takes years.

The GCM is about protecting the migrants, not about pushing a universal immigration policy. Marta Foresti, director of the human mobility initiative at the Overseas Development Institute told the Guardian that “the global compact for migration will help governments work together to better manage migration and ensure that people making cross-border journeys can do so in a legal, orderly and safe way.”

Countries can continue to uphold their respective immigration requirements, as long as human rights violations are avoided.

Author: Ana Hernandez

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