By Thalif Deen
UN, Mar 16 (IPS) – As the death toll keeps mounting and the humanitarian crises continue unabated, the life of the average migrant or refugee has largely turned out to be an unmitigated nightmare.The litany of woes include life-threatening midnight runs in dangerous waters, victims of human trafficking, suffering under deplorable working conditions, and subject to rampant sexual abuse and violence in households.
The United Nations, in an attempt to resolve the ongoing crisis, is pinning its hopes on a proposed Global Compact on Migration (GCM), a 24-page document that covers a wide range of issues, including labour rights, access to legal assistance, open borders, consular protection, cheaper transfer of migrant remittances and the re-integration of migrants and refugees into society.
The ongoing negotiations – the last round of talks ended March 15, with a final round scheduled for July – will culminate in an intergovernmental conference on international migration in Morocco in December this year, with a view to adopting the GCM by all 193 member states.
UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric put it this way: “The Global Compact for Migration will be the first inter-governmentally negotiated agreement, prepared under the auspices of the United Nations, to cover all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner.”
He pointed out that the negotiating process will require further discussion on several outstanding issues, including differentiation between irregular and regular migration, differentiation between migrants and refugees, implementation and capacity-building, as well as follow-up and review.
Matthew Reading-Smith, Senior Communication Officer at CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance based in Johannesburg, told IPS there are over a quarter billion migrants and refugees in the world. Over 5,000 died last year on their dangerous journeys.
And the United Nations has been moved to act, he said, pointing out that the Global Compact is meant to protect the rights of those displaced and help address the root economic, environmental and social drivers that are compelling people to leave their communities and countries.
In a blog posting, CIVICUS said a key area where the document falls short is on commitments to tackle the primary causes of migration. A stated aim of the Global Compact is to “mitigate the adverse drivers and structural factors that hinder people from building and maintaining sustainable livelihoods in their countries of origin”.
However, the current text lacks actionable commitments to control the numerous man-made forces underlying global mass migration.
“The reasons are different for every migrant and diaspora, but we know that natural disasters are the number one cause of internal and international displacement. With rising sea levels, desertification and extreme weather events, climate action must be a part of any meaningful agreement. “
Emele Duituturaga, Executive Director of the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), said “climate induced displacement is upon us. Coastal communities are being evacuated and relocated the world over.”
“In sea locked countries of the Pacific Ocean, disappearance of our island homes is imminent”, he warned.
To protect the growing number of climate migrants, a necessary starting place for the compact is to reaffirm the importance of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and accelerate efforts to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5°C, instead of the more conservative and ambiguous target to keep the world “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Missing just one of these targets will lead to millions of people being displaced, said Duituturaga.
Speaking at an international Forum in Paris in January, William Lacy Swing, Director General, International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN’s migration agency, said the Forum was remarkable in its timing, given recent developments signaling that this is truly a new era for migration – a “mega-trend” of our time.
To mention only two of these milestones, he singled out the formal recognition of migration as a force for sustainable human development– with the formal inclusion of migration-related targets in Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals; and, Secondly, he said, the historic adoption of the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants, and the resulting consultations, stock-taking phases; the Secretary-General’s Report; and the much-awaited “Zero Draft” that will form the basis for formal negotiations — all leading us towards the adoption of a “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.”
Sarnata Reynolds, Global Displacement & Migration Policy Advisor at Oxfam told IPS that overall, Oxfam welcomes much of the contents of the zero draft to the Global Compact on migration.
“It consistently recognizes that all migrants have human rights, including the right to be treated with dignity and respects their right to access education, health care, due process and justice before the law.”
At the same time, she said, the zero draft is written from the perspective of states rather than the experience of rights holders. While this state-led process requires that political leaders ultimately agree to the contents of the GCM, implementation won’t be possible or credible if the experiences of migrants, their families and the communities who work alongside them are not fully integrated.
As the negotiations unfold, Oxfam urges states to commit to increasing the safe passage of migrants by providing sufficient work opportunities, education, family reunification and protection visas that meet the needs of families and industry, and lifesaving assistance when migrants are caught in crisis. In particular, the experience of women as migrants themselves and oftentimes as the primary caretaker of migrant families, must be integrated into all programs and approaches, to ensure that their ability to exercise agency and take up fair and safe employment is promoted.
As another priority, Oxfam is calling for the legal recognition and protection of migrants forced across borders due to disasters and/or climate change.
Oxfam welcomes the inclusion of these vulnerable migrants throughout the zero draft, and will work alongside favorable states to ensure that the final compact includes a process toward the formal protection of those crossing borders for these reasons, and a concrete timetable to realize these goals.
Kate Gough, a researcher at the Washington-based Center for Global Development (CGD) who specializes on migration issues, told IPS the draft is ambitious and covers a lot of ground.
“The GCM is a significant and critical opportunity that we can’t afford to miss. Member States have a chance to pragmatically tackle how migration is governed, in line with current and future migration realities.”
She said the immense benefits migration can bring can be amplified: migrants can significantly and positively contribute to the countries they move to and the countries they move from, but maximizing the positive impacts that are possible requires policies that enable migrants’ contributions rather than stifle them.
Gough also pointed out that the issue of returns is dominating discussions right now.
This is understandable given the scale of arrivals, but ultimately counterproductive. Return efforts alone will not deter future migration. The coming demographic realities mean migration will continue, and new legal pathways for migrants will be essential to managing these migration pressures, she noted.
“The conversation on returns is valid and relevant, but should not be the only part of the discussion. In fact, new lawful migration channels paired with enhanced enforcement could be an effective migration management tool, (as we laid out in a recent brief looking at the U.S. Bracero example). This is one example of the types of pragmatic and realistic policy discussions that could help move the negotiations forward,” she declared.
(The writer can be contacted at email@example.com)
By Thalif Deen