As world leaders gathered this week in Marrakesh to adopt the United Nation’s first-ever global compact on migration, misconceptions about the aims of the agreement abounded.
The Global Compact for Migration aims to improve how migration is managed via a set of 23 specific objectives, ranging from the collection of adequate data to ensuring that all migrants have proof of legal identity, establishing coordinated efforts on missing migrants, and strengthening the transnational response to the smuggling and trafficking of migrants.
And yet, some 30 nations were not represented in Marrakesh, over 20 of which, including the United States, Australia and most of the eastern and central European members of the European Union, declared loud and clear that they would not adopt the compact. Discussions leading up to the final agreement have caused severe fractures within government coalitions, political parties and public opinion at large.
As with most progressive initiatives in recent history, conspiracy theorists have been actively at work. Suggestions that the compact would open the door to millions of new migrants in all major host nations, or that migration would now be formally considered a “human right,” flooded social media with increased perfidy as adoption of the compact was drawing close. These should be viewed as largely epiphenomenal; their sell-by date will be limited as other emerging topics whet the appetite of conspiracy theorists.
However, more ideologically constructed criticism of the global compact, not only within alt-right movements but also elected conservative and populist parties and governments worldwide, has also been voiced throughout the two-year negotiation period. These critics purport that the global compact could only lead, intentionally or inductively, to a gradual erosion of sovereignty over national borders, national security and national historical approaches to cultural integration and multiculturalism. These assumptions are misconstrued on several counts.
First, nothing in the compact encourages any form of national policy or legislative revision. On the contrary, the agreement makes clear that all key elements of existing national policies, whether on border management, the numbers of migrants to be admitted by each country, integration measures or otherwise, will continue to be regulated according to national law and in line with existing international treaties ratified by each member state. The debate is not about national versus multilateral approaches to migration, or multilateralism in lieu of national sovereignty. This global compact merely addresses, if and as applicable, selected shortcomings and inherent limitations of current national policies on migration.
Second, an important and largely overlooked element of the compact is that it is not only designed to enhance cooperation among state actors. A major innovative feature in this agreement is that it encourages cooperation with a range of other players such as local authorities, civil society and the private sector. Considering that migration primarily affects cities and that a range of civil society organizations, employers and other private sector entities play a vital role in the success of any integration policy, the bottom-up and multi-stakeholder line adopted by the compact is particularly apposite. Evidence suggests that many of the innovative and most promising initiatives in the field of migration are launched at a local level. In that sense, the compact should prove instrumental in highlighting success stories and good practices emerging in signatory countries.
Third, current population movements, particularly forced displacements, can no longer be approached by single states in isolation. Irregular migration requires close cooperation among countries of origin, transit and arrival to regulate and monitor borders. Migrant smuggling and trafficking require systematic exchanges of intelligence, between both sending and receiving countries, in order to disrupt the modus operandi of organized crime rings. Also, the significant number of migrant fatalities that occur in transit, especially at sea and in the desert, demands close cooperation among states involved at various stages of the migration cycle.
The global compact is a political declaration and an aspirational, non-binding policy framework. It offers a menu of policy options from which to pick and choose in order to develop a more efficient and humane migration policy. It need not become a scapegoat for political opportunists nor a panacea for the idealists.
In 2022, a newly established review forum will publish a report demonstrating the compact’s benefits and possible shortcomings. Until then, despite coming at perhaps an inopportune political moment, the compact merits wide promotion and support by its signatory member states and other stakeholders.