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A “door opener for mass immigration”?

What the Global Compact for Migration Really Means

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Schraven, Benjamin / Eva Dick
The Current Column (2018)

Bonn: German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) (The current column of July 23, 2018)

Bonn, July 23, 2018. Just over a week ago, the member states of the United Nations (UN) agreed on a “Global Compact for Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration”. In times of the foreclosure policy of Seehofer, Salvini, Trump and Co., this almost works like a small miracle. Proponents of the agreement such as UN Secretary General António Guterres speak of a truly historic agreement in this context. AfD and right-wing populist media, on the other hand, want to have identified an instrument in the global migration pact that opens the door to the (hundred-) million immigration from Africa to Europe. The USA terminated their participation in the negotiations in advance and Hungary has now also announced that it will withdraw from the pact. So what exactly is behind this global agreement, and what can we hope for from it?

The starting point of the migration pact - as well as the global refugee pact, which is currently still being negotiated - was a summit on flight and migration under the umbrella of the UN in September 2016, to which Barack Obama had invited. In contrast to refugee policy, where there are specific global protection agreements and the UN refugee agency UNHCR, which is responsible for compliance with them, there is no comparable set of rules for migration and also no world or UN migration organization. Contrary to a widespread misunderstanding, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) does not have this role. Rather, it is a service provider in its member states for migration management, advice and repatriation. To date, there is also no (binding) agreement to protect migrants from human rights violations or exploitation.

The global pact for migration, which consists of 23 targets at its core, tries to close this gap in a certain way. The text of the treaty places a strong focus on the protection, rights and better living and working conditions of migrants and their families. The fight against labor exploitation, human trafficking and discrimination as well as the expansion of opportunities for regular migration are important elements of the pact. Civil society organizations in particular were able to prevail in the negotiation process. Furthermore, the pact calls for better data on international migration processes, advocates combating economic, environmental and political causes of flight and emphasizes the goal of “holistic, safe and coordinated border protection”.

Above all, however, the message that this agreement sends is important: the Global Migration Pact is certainly not a door opener for unrestrained mass immigration to Europe or the like. Rather, it is a sober commitment to what migration actually is. Namely a global reality that cannot be stopped simply by closing borders or adding a few billion euros in development aid. In addition, the pact shows what migration can actually be, namely a "source of global prosperity, innovation and sustainable development", as it says in the text of the pact. Remittances, which have been increasing for years, are just one example of this.

However, the migration pact is not binding and initially only a declaration of intent. A central prerequisite for more "safe, regular and orderly migration" - as envisaged by the UN Sustainable Development Goals - is therefore the will to improve the political structure of migration and to realize the goals of the pact. The good news is that many countries will certainly move forward in implementation. Countries of origin, transit and immigration from the global south such as Mexico, Morocco or Bangladesh are likely to have a strong interest in better cooperation on migration policy. Because in Europe we shouldn't forget, in all the high-pitched discussions about transit centers or (denied) refugee admission: A large part of the international migration movements take place within the regions of the global south. Migration from Africa to Europe, for example, represents only a small part of the total African migration processes. Two thirds of African migrants living in other African countries go there.

In order for the pact to be implemented - even against powerful dissenting voices - further things are imperative. An upgrading of the IOM or the creation of a UN migration secretariat with a political-programmatic (and not just coordinating) function are urgently needed. Because international migration policy must be dovetailed much more closely with development, climate or environmental policy, which can also influence migration movements. Regional organizations that play an important role in regulating regional migration systems must also be strengthened in the global migration architecture. Last but not least, this also applies to cities and municipalities. Because, especially in developing and emerging countries, they are central places and actors for the reception and integration of migrants.