Global Compact on Migration Stutters Toward Adoption

By | August 2, 2018

NEW YORK, August 3 (C-Fam) It was with a sense of unease and trepidation that countries hailed the advent of a new agreement on migration at UN headquarters last month.

“We proved that multilateralism is very much alive,” thundered President of the General Assembly Miroslav Lajčák as ambassadors and delegates cheered the end of negotiations for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration, the first ever international framework to address migration.

In what was undoubtedly intended to be a not-so-veiled rebuke of the Trump administration’s move away from multilateralism through increased focus on bilateral diplomacy, several states echoed Lajčák’s talking points on multilateralism and how historical the agreement would be.

Though the agreement is widely seen as favoring a soft approach to border control, Lajčák was insistent that it did not “encourage migration” and instead sought the “right balance between the rights of people and sovereignty of states.”

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto who attended the final negotiations disagreed saying the agreement contained many elements that encouraged migration, including the notion of a human right to migrate.

“We don’t think anyone has a right to pick a country as a country of destination,” he said, adding that for Hungary migration was essentially a security issue, and not about human rights.

The agreement commits countries to providing migrants minimum social services and social security, as well as cooperation between states to facilitate migration and repatriation, family reunification, and to fight human trafficking. It also institutes a capacity building mechanism within the United Nations and a follow-up procedure to the agreement every four years in the General Assembly.

Conspicuously absent from the agreement is a commitment to “sexual and reproductive health,” a term that has become ubiquitous in recent UN agreements but is not mentioned, at least expressly, as part of the basic health provision foreseen in the agreement. The agreement does however defer to international bureaucrats and suggests countries follow a guidance of the World Health Organization that includes sexual and reproductive health as a basic component of health for migrants.

Lajčák’s plea for multilateralism is all the more understandable given that he hails from Slovakia, a country that is part of the Visegrad Group alongside Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Austria. One of the group’s aims is to tighten borders in defiance of German diktats through the European Commission. It would be embarrassing if the agreement he worked so hard on were rejected by his own country.

The agreement is highly controversial because migration is not just a sensitive political issue, it is also one where sovereign prerogatives are widely understood to be at their peak. In international law border control is a defining attribute of sovereignty. Several states indicated last month they would study the agreement carefully before making a final decision about adopting the agreement.

Even though the agreement is only political and is not binding on states, the U.S. withdrew from negotiations on the Global Compact last December. Last month, Hungary and Australia announced they will not join the agreement, slated for formal adoption at a global summit in Marakesh in December. Regardless of their decision, states may agree to join the agreement at a later date when a different political dynamic might favor joining the agreement.