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United Nations

UN conference adopts migration pact, despite withdrawals

  • US, Australia and several other countries have pulled out of the pact, which has split governments and sparked resignations
PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 December, 2018, 7:23pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 December, 2018, 7:23pm

A United Nations conference adopted a migration pact in front of leaders and representatives from around 150 countries in Morocco on Monday, despite a string of withdrawals.

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 “road map 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 it will allow the UN to impose immigration policies on member states.

The pact “is not legally binding”, he insisted.

“It is a framework for international cooperation … that specifically reaffirms the principle of state sovereignty,” Guterres said. “We must not succumb to fear and false narratives.”

He was addressing an audience that included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela and Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras.

The United States on Friday 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 United States to Europe and beyond, right-wing and populist leaders have tried to take measures to keep out migrants in recent years.

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

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