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UN adopts historic pacts on Refugees and on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration?

Earlier this month the UN General Assembly adopted two “Global Compacts,” one dealing with Refugees and another on “Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.”  

The Global Compact on Refugees, aimed at improving efforts to manage large refugee movements was adopted by 181 governments — but without the support of the United States and Hungary. Three others abstained, the Dominican Republic, Eritrea and Libya.

A second agreement, The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is the first intergovernmentally negotiated agreement on the subject, prepared under the auspices of the United Nations to cover all dimensions of international migration. 

The document was adopted by the General Assembly with 152 votes in favour, 12 abstentions, and five votes against, namely by the Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel, Poland, and the United States of America. An additional 24 Member States were not present to take part in the vote.

The UN Secretary-General explained in a statement released after the vote that the document “Reaffirms the foundational principles of our global community, including national sovereignty and universal human rights, while pointing the way toward humane and sensible action to benefit countries of origin, transit and destination as well as migrants themselves.”

Although both global compacts are not legally binding, the intergovernmental processes to develop them led to (often misleading) criticism from nationalistic politicians in many countries. 

Refuting these sentiments, Louise Arbour, UN Special Representative for International Migration, who led the conference deliberations over the Compact ion Migration when it was formally adopted in the Moroccan city of Marrakech, said that the formal endorsement “Represents a resounding commitment to an international migration framework based on fact, not myth, and to an understanding that national migration policies are best implemented through cooperation not in isolation.”

The Compact on Migration frames four objectives: improving the governance on migration, addressing the challenges associated with today’s migration, improving international support to those (mostly developing) states hosting the majority of the world’s migrants, and to strengthen the contribution of migrants and migration to sustainable development.  

The two Global Compacts, on Refugees and on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, were adopted at a time when a record-high 68.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes. This includes 25.4 million who have crossed borders to become refugees, 40 million who are displaced within their home countries and 3.1 million who are seeking asylum.