GCM and GCR: A Storm in a Teacup?

Contemporary migration movements are common due to many conflicts, environmental degradation, or economic poverty persisting among the world. Since the conflict in Syria, millions of migrants were forced to leave their home, and some sought protection in Europe. It was enough having one million asylum seekers and irregular migrants to have a crisis in Europe.  This was a jumpstart for European efforts to initiate the process of a declaration for migration.  The New York Declaration of September 2016 had firm support from all the UN members.  Eventually, the negotiations and consultations led to bring the idea of The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) and Global Compact on Refugees (GCR).  Both compacts are legally non-binding. While GCM aims to foster “enhanced cooperation on international migration in all its dimensions”, GCR aims to “provide a basis for predictable and equitable burden- and responsibility-sharing” among diverse actors in the international community. Although these two compacts are promising, the essential challenge is whether states are prepared to implement these compacts through benign political will. Therefore, these compacts have some significant limitations. What are these limitations and possible improvements?

There are four fundamental categories of limitations related to the compacts: Actor-Agency, Economic, Political, and Development-Human Rights tenets. Firstly, states are unwilling to compromise their sovereignty. Since they dominated most of the phases, they dictated their perspectives, such as sovereignty clauses, the preamble, or objectives 2, 5, 9, 11, and 13. Their lack of cooperation among some states decreases the effectiveness. For instance, the United States voted against the two compacts in the UNGA. Moreover, GCM does not refuse the socially constructed categorization of undocumented/illegal migrants and criminalizes migrants.  It does not define irregular/undocumented migrants legally and focus on the differentiation of undocumented or under-documented migration clearly. Nevertheless, states are unwilling to fill these gaps. Beyond these, lack of clarity has caused many to be skeptical about the usefulness of the compacts. The compacts were adopted as two separate agreements despite the fact that they overlap on issues like mixed migration and environment-induced migration. This has created a problem of conversations on shared issues, and implementation plans do not create room for enhanced coordination or combined funding.

Secondly, GCM did not focus on the linkage between migration policies and national economic growth, including the world labor market and global capital. Also, it did not focus on structural determinants, like the economy, for the current migration from South to North. Furthermore, the compacts have proven to be handicapped in emergency situations such as the one associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. On the rationale of public health, all forms of mobility have been revisited, and access to legal migration and humanitarian protection pathways is greatly limited.

The top priority of policy-makers has been to bring the pandemic under control. As such, short-term arrangements have been offered at the expense of more sustainable solutions to issues associated with migration and asylum.

Thirdly, at the time of adoption, it was expected that the compacts would provide, at minimum, a common language, an impetus, the expression of a global consensus towards better management of migration issues. However, this expectation has been largely obscured by the reluctance of certain states (such as some member states of the EU and ASEAN)  to speak publicly about the compact due to the lingering risk of public backlash. Even in their preambles, subsequent regional agreements concerning migration have remained conspicuously silent about the compacts, so much so that it is doubtful whether the compacts have been very instrumental in providing guidance in situations where decisions have to be made. Moreover, due to the nature of some conflicts, such as the Syrian conflict, threats persist, and durable solutions are unclear, limiting the capacity of GCR. Finally, the persistence of developmental and human rights objectives contradicts in a further point. For example, policies about preventing brain drain might damage the right to leave any state, or promoting circular migration can undermine family unity.

While these limitations challenge the prospects of compacts, nevertheless, there is some potential to improve their impact. To improve the institutional design, the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) should be more realistic in terms of the implementation process. In order to make CRRF more efficient, it might need to work on the following issues such as using simple, practical language, engaging more local, district, and regional authorities, hearing the refugee and host community voices, setting a realistic time frame, and addressing the root causes. Additionally, peer pressure can increase compliance with implementation. It can be provided through an impartial international review mechanism. This can be discussed in International Migration Review Forum, which will take place in 2022.

A campaign involving financial contribution given to UN Migration Network could promote the objectives of the compacts. A Multilateral Commitment Conference can provide this if the NGOs pursue necessary strategies to convince some states to campaign for this actively. To overcome the underestimation of migrants due to two distinct compacts, GCM and GCR can assert that refugees are migrants which they need protection due to severe reasons. To solve the definition problem of documented and undocumented migration in GCM, an international conference can be arranged to have an extensive definition of forced migrants.

Both compacts can use direct references to the human rights of both refugees and migrants and adopt a human rights-based language and approach rather than using human rights as a tool for humanitarian action and development.

All in all, even though there are limitations, the potential for improvements never ceases to exist. The two compacts are yet growing infants. The fundamental question is whether the states are ready to cooperate, commit themselves to objectives, and have a good political will for the future of global migration governance.

Author(s): Esra Zora, Nur Seda Temur, Tuğberk Samur, Yves Paulin Tinteu Tenefosso



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