UN conference adopts migration pact despite withdrawals

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said most developed countries need migrants across a broad spectrum of vital roles, from caring for elderly people to preventing the collapse of health services.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said most developed countries need migrants across a broad spectrum of vital roles, from caring for elderly people to preventing the collapse of health services.PHOTO: AFP

MARRAKESH (AFP) - A United Nations conference adopted a migration pact in front of leaders and representatives from around 150 countries in Morocco on Monday (Dec 10), despite a string of withdrawals driven by anti-immigrant populism.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration – finalised at the UN in July after 18 months of talks – was formally approved in Marrakesh at the start of a two-day conference.

Billed as the first international document on managing migration, it lays out 23 objectives to open up legal migration and discourage illegal border crossings, as the number of people on the move globally has surged to more than 250 million.

Describing it as a “roadmap to prevent suffering and chaos”, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres sought to dispel what he called a number of myths around the pact, including claims that it will allow the UN to impose migration policies on member states.

The pact “is not legally binding”, he said. “It is a framework for international co-operation... that specifically reaffirms the principle of state sovereignty.

“We must not succumb to fear and false narratives”, he added, addressing an audience that included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela and Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras.

‘BASED ON GOODWILL’ 

The United States on Friday (Dec 7) had hit out at the pact, labelling it “an effort by the United Nations to advance global governance at the expense of the sovereign right of states”.

The US was the first government to disavow the negotiations late last year, and since then Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia have pulled out of the process.

Rows over the accord have erupted in several European Union nations, hobbling Belgium’s coalition government and pushing Slovakia’s foreign minister to tender his resignation.

From the US to Europe and beyond, right-wing and populist leaders have taken increasingly draconian measures to shut out migrants in recent years.

US President Donald Trump has pledged to build a wall on the US-Mexico border and has focused his recent ire on a migrant caravan from Central America, while a populist coalition government in Italy has clamped down on boats rescuing migrants at sea.

Belgium’s liberal premier Charles Michel won the support of parliament and is in Morocco to back the accord, but was left leading a minority government on Sunday (Dec 9) after the Flemish nationalist party said it will quit his coalition over the pact.

Belgium is among a group of seven nations described by the UN’s special representative for migration Louise Arbour as still “engaged in further internal deliberations” over the accord.

Bulgaria, Estonia, Italy, Israel, Slovenia and Switzerland also fall into this category.

While welcoming the UN’s attempts to manage migration, activists argue that the pact does not go far enough to secure migrants’ rights.

“It is very aspirational in many areas, with limited implementation commitments,” said Amnesty International’s senior advocate for the Americas, Mr Perseo Quiroz, in comments emailed to AFP.

The agreement’s non-binding status and the inclusion of several specific clauses on sovereignty “makes its implementation solely based on the goodwill of states supporting it”, he added.

After the Marrakesh conference, the UN General Assembly is set to adopt a resolution formally endorsing the deal on Dec 19.