Federica Marsi – The National
The first UN global agreement setting up a common framework on the management of international migration flows was formally adopted on Monday as a two-day intergovernmental conference began in Marrakech.
Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita, who was elected president of the conference, formally announced the endorsement of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration to a roar of applause.
But the criticism of 23 objectives outlined in the document has been raised in a number of countries, some of which stayed away from the conference.
Representatives of 164 of the 193 UN member states arrived at the Bab Ighli conference centre on Monday morning to affirm their support for the global migration deal.
Ten countries have formally notified the UN of their decision to pull out of the process — namely Austria, Australia, the Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Chile and the United States.
US President Donald Trump, who also failed to appear at a COP24 summit on climate change in Poland last week, was the first to voice opposition to the pact in December last year.
The governments of Bulgaria, Estonia, Israel, Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland are still conducting internal debates. Estonia recently aired a two-hour-long reading of the compact on prime TV after a dispute over its contents flared up in parliament, while in Slovakia the foreign minister was pushed to tender his resignation.
Belgium was the latest country to face political upheaval over the migration agreement, with Prime Minister Charles Michel’s coalition collapsing on Sunday when the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) Flemish nationalist party quit in protest.
“I stand here before you without a parliamentary majority backing my government,” Mr Michel told the conference.
The N-VA, which is in favour of speeding up the deportation of migrants from Belgium, argued that taking part in the pact meant giving up sovereignty over the country’s borders. Despite his coalition partners’ volte face, two thirds of the Belgian parliament supported the agreement, Mr Michel said.
“In the name of my country, I assure you that Belgium is committed to supporting this migration pact.”
The Global Compact for Migration drew little attention when it was finalised and approved by all UN member states except the US after 18 months of high-level negotiations. But as the date set for its formal announcement in Marrakech drew closer and states begun pulling out, the document became a hot-button issue.
Louise Arbour, the UN secretary general’s special representative for international migration, expressed disappointment at the row that ensued.
“We are not establishing a new right to migrate. No. There is not a right for anyone to go anywhere at any time according to his or her whim,” she said. “What we are establishing is the obligation to respect the human rights of migrants — which of course is absolutely obvious when we at the same time celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Before the conference opened, she said that “you can’t convince those who cannot be persuaded”.
The special representative also noted that the decision of some countries not to be present in Marrakech was a symbolic step that did little in practice to distance them from a text that had already been unanimously approved.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel reaffirmed her commitment to the global agreement despite facing criticism from the far-right party AfD.
“The compact clearly aims to combat illegal migration and the trafficking of human beings,” Mrs Merkel said. “We as countries cannot accept that whether a migrant manages or not to cross a border is decided by traffickers.”
The Global Compact for Migration will now be sent to the General Assembly, which will adopt a resolution by December 19 formally endorse the deal.
NGOs hopeful migration agreement the universal declaration on human rights of our time
Those working to save the lives of migrants hope the deal will lead to tangible changes on the ground
Few speakers in the course of a two-day intergovernmental conference in Marrakech to mark the approval of a new global pact on migration failed to issue stark warnings about the tidal wave of populism and xenophobia that has swept countries from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.
The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was approved as the world marked the 70th anniversary of the Universal Human Rights Declaration on Monday. It asserts the basic rights of migrants regardless of their geographic location and legal status.
But in doing so, it highlighted a growing global rift that many see as reminiscent of the world’s great wars.
“In this year marking the anniversary of the declaration, the human rights agenda is losing ground while authoritarianism gains ground all over the world,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at a ceremony celebrating the 70 years’ landmark on Monday evening.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that the document comes at a time when “some view migrants as convenient scapegoats for political gains.”
Similar to what the Universal Human Rights Declaration did in 1948 following World War Two and the atrocities of the Nazi regime, the Global Compact “reminds us that migrants’ rights must be respected.”
But this is not a reminder all countries wanted to hear.
While the representatives of 164 UN member states gathered in Morocco to reaffirm their commitment to the principles enshrined in the Global Compact, 29 others, including the United States, Switzerland, Australia, Italy and Hungary, did not show up.
Detractors of the Global Compact claimed the document would lead to a loss of national sovereignty in matters of immigration. But the 23 objectives finalised at the UN in July following 18 months of negotiations are no more legally binding than the human rights declaration has been for the past 70 years.
The symbolic significance of the document, however, should not be downplayed. Joanne Liu, International President of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), said it constitutes a “defining moment of how we project ourselves in the future collectively.”
“The Global Compact [reiterated] that the rights of a migrant do not stop if he or she has crossed a border,” Ms Liu told The National at the intergovernmental conference in Marrakech.
For politicians whose moral compasses are driven by national interests, the idea that migrants’ rights transcend borders can be hard to swallow. Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, whose League party championed the motto “let’s help them in their own homes,” accused NGOs of providing a “taxi service” to migrants by rescuing them in the Mediterranean Sea.
In September, Mr Salvini pressured Panama to withdraw the flag granted to a rescue vessel operated by MSF and SOS Mediterranee in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Aquarius, which rescued 80,000 people since 2015, has since been idled in the French port of Marseille. Last week, Switzerland – which did not send representatives to the intergovernmental conference – turned down a requests to register the vessel citing risks to “international cooperation”.
According to Ms Liu, the signal sent by the Global Compact could well be a turning point that could push countries to reconsider their policies. While the non-binding document is unlikely to yield immediate change, she said it has given MSF and other humanitarian organisations a legal “base to stand on.”
“What we need to do now is to stand strong and tall to make sure that this translates into real action,” she said.
Since the Universal Human Rights Declaration was approved in Paris with 48 out of the 58 votes of the then members of the United Nations, it has become the world’s most translated document and inspired grassroots movements demanding civil rights, equality, and the end of racial discrimination.
The words pronounced by Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt and chair of the declaration’s drafting committee, echo those pronounced by her modern counterparts at the intergovernmental conference in Marrakesh as the conference drew to a close on Tuesday, leaving the responsibility to each adhering country to go down the path that has been laid before them. “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home” she said in 1948. “Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” Updated: December 11, 2018