UN Updates

Towards a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration by Jocelyn Quijano, PBVM

The unanimous adoption of the New York Declaration on September 19, 2016 has led to two parallel works: a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) and towards a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is primarily implementing the global comprehensive refugee response framework and has begun piloting CRRF implementation in five (5) countries in Africa: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, and Tanzania.

On a parallel track, the UN member states have agreed on the modalities for the GCM inter-governmental negotiations. There have already been several consultations, and there will be more through the end of the year, by various UN entities as well as regional consultations. A total of six (6) thematic sessions were/will be held on the following themes:

  1. Human Rights of all migrants (Geneva)
  2. Addressing drivers of migration (New York)
  3. International cooperation and governance of migration in all its dimensions (Geneva)
  4. Contributions of migrants and diaspora to all dimensions of sustainable development (New York)
  5. Smuggling of migrants, trafficking in persons, and contemporary forms of slavery (Vienna)
  6. Irregular migration and regular pathways (Geneva)

The first thematic session was held on May 8-9 in Geneva, and the second one was here in New York on May 22-23. I was able to attend the second thematic session. The two co-facilitators and Special Representative for International Migration of the Secretary General (SRSG) gave the opening remarks for the second thematic session. Swiss Ambassador Jürg Lauber made it clear that the session is a time to share experiences for potential best practices as well as solutions, not the beginning of the intergovernmental negotiations yet. Mexican Ambassador Jose Gomez Camacho emphasized the need to know what drives migration for he believes that understanding the phenomenon would be the best insurance policy to get the best GCM. He also clarified that though this is a state-led process, it is at the same time an open, plural, diverse and transparent process where stakeholders can and will participate and how big a challenge it is to ensure that all voices are heard. SRSG Louise Arbour reiterated the importance of understanding why people move and the contexts in which they move.

Three panels were conducted in the duration of two days, namely: (a) Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication, (b) Human-made crises as drivers of migration, and (c) Adverse effects of climate change and natural disasters as drivers of migration. The moderators and panelists came from different fields: the academia, civil society, the private sector, regional representatives, and member states. The presentations varied in ideas, styles and fervor, but underlying them is a common desire to address the phenomenon of large movements of people. There may not be total agreement on how to do this, as manifested by the remarks delivered by representatives of member states after each panel discussion as well as by a few representatives of other stakeholders, but there appears the burning aspiration to do something.

An informal dialogue between the co-facilitators and civil society and other stakeholders was held on the second day an hour before the official thematic session began. A good number of civil society organizations, the SRSG, and a few member states representatives attended the dialogue. It was a wider opportunity for members of civil society and other stakeholders to contribute to the conversation regarding the GCM and to speak of concerns as well as essential elements that, from our perspective, need to be included in the GCM, such as human rights based procedures at borders and within countries of transit and destination; access to education, health care, and all social protections regardless of migration status; concrete measures to operationalize the GCM; and so on.

Panel Summaries:

Panel 1 on Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication

Panelists repeatedly stressed that migration is a human reality rather than a problem to be solved, but they also emphasized the need to ensure that people move out of choice and not of necessity. The goal is not to stop migration but to do so in a safe and regular manner. They attested to the positive impacts of migration on sustainable development while recognizing that labor migration is an essential issue to be addressed. There is a move to ensure that measures are undertaken to retain highly skilled people in their countries of origin. Their recommendations towards GCM included:

  • promoting human rights, rule of law, access to justice, combating human trafficking and smuggling, and the right to remain in the origin countries
  • increasing development assistance to ensure good governance
  • developing guidelines for migrants in vulnerable situations
  • the need to fully integrate migrants and their contributions into national plans
  • that the GCM consists of short term and circular migration, balance development and migration systems
  • having effective mechanisms to review impact and implementation of GCM

It was concluded that the SDGs provide a critical framework to address irregular migration.


Panel 2 on Human-made crises as drivers of migration

The importance of the SDGs implementation was underlined as a means to prevent human made crises. It was also thought to remember the nexus between peace, development, and human rights when considering migration. Panelists acknowledged that there is a legal gap regarding migrants; refugees have an existing legal framework in the 1954 Convention. The recommendations for the GCM included a gender sensitive approach, the role and protection of women in vulnerable situations. It was recognized that internally displaced peoples (IDPs) are not covered either in the GCM or CRRF, but that they are ultimately migrants as well and therefore need to be included in the GCM.

Panel 3 on Adverse effects of climate change and natural disasters as drivers of migration

Experts underlined that migration is multifaceted. Climate change is considered primarily as driver of all forms of migration, so there is a call for increased preparedness on disaster displacement. In Sub-Saharan Africa, many people move internally, intra-regionally and internationally due to the impact of climate change. However, there are difficulties in categorizing migrants as ‘climate change displacement’, even as it is suggested that there be a special category for people moving due to climate – “distinctive environmental migrant.” Recommendations for the GCM included:

  • tailor policies to different contexts; climate adaptation and development have to be components in policies
  • harmonization of plans for relocation including cross borders and humanitarian visas
  • Sendai framework may be adequate support and provide complementarity to the GCM
  • An all of society approach, not all of government approach
  • Improve data collection


Thematic expert, Prof. Binod Khadria, provided a short overview of the panel discussions to wrap up the two-day thematic session on addressing drivers of migration. From his perspective, there are three elements:

  • “Wish List” – what are the aspirations for the GCM?
  • Reinvention of the wheel – there are many things that we already know; there are existing framework. It is important to take stock and consider them vis-à-vis migration issues
  • Action-oriented innovative ideas that require breaking new grounds – consider the interlinkages and overarching issues. The GCM calls for a paradigm shift with the following terms: safe, voluntary (orderly) and regular migration.
    1. Address adverse effects of climate change and natural disasters, human-made crises, and poverty eradication in the light of the Sustainable Development Goals

It was a packed two-day event that really delved into the motivations of why people move – economic reasons, fear for one’s life, family reunification, climate-induced displacement, natural disasters, war and conflicts. At a side event I attended, I was moved by a Syrian refugee who prefaced his sharing by these words: “I never thought I’d move away from my home.” It would be good to have a Global Compact on Migration. However, I think that unless drivers of migration which force people to migrate are substantively addressed, there will not be a “migration of choice rather than a necessity.” I believe that genuine implementation of the SDGs at local and national levels would be the best response to the large movement of people. Alas, this is something to aspire for, and it needs every little bit of action from you and me.

For updated information on or to follow the GCM process, please check https://refugeesmigrants.un.org





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