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The United Nations Global Compact for Migration

Published Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration will be formally adopted by most Member States of the United Nations, including the UK, in December 2018. This briefing explains what's in the Compact and its implications for Member States.

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The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is an intergovernmentally negotiated agreement, prepared under the auspices of the United Nations (UN). 

The text of the Compact (GCM) was agreed at the United Nations General Assembly in July 2018, and it is due to be formally adopted at an intergovernmental conference in Marrakesh on 10-11 December 2018.

It aims to foster international co-operation on migration in a comprehensive manner, in order to “facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration, while reducing the incidence and negative impact of irregular migration,” and also “to reduce the risks and vulnerabilities migrants face at different stages of migration by respecting, protecting and fulfilling their human rights and providing them with care and assistance.”

The GCM sets out 23 objectives to achieve safe, orderly and regular migration. Within each objective it sets out a range of actions that can be drawn from in order to implement the objective. Nevertheless, the text of the GCM affirms that it is a “non-legally binding, cooperative framework” and that States have the “sovereign right . . . to determine their national migration policy . . . in conformity with international law”.  

The decision to develop and adopt a Global Compact for Migration was taken on 19 September 2016 at a summit of heads of state and government hosted by the UN General Assembly in New York. The commitment to develop the Global Compact was contained in the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants adopted by all 193 Member States of the United Nations. 

Since then several countries have said they will not be participating in the Compact. The USA pulled out of the pact in December 2017. In July 2018, Hungary also pulled out. Since October 2018, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Australia and Israel have all said they will not be participating in the Compact.  Switzerland and Italy have also indicated they are considering pulling out.

The UK Government reaffirmed its support for the GCM in response to a number of Parliamentary Questions in November 2018. It has stressed that the Compact is a “non-legally binding, cooperative framework”, which “reaffirms the sovereign right of States to determine their national migration” policy, while setting out “a better international framework for action and co-operation on migration” It has also referred to important commitments set out in the Compact to tackle human trafficking and people smuggling, the recognition of a State’s right to control its borders, and acknowledgement of States’ responsibility to accept the return of their nationals who no longer have the right to remain elsewhere.


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