Migrants and refugees on a rubber boat receive life jackets during a rescue operation by the crew of the Topaz Responder, a rescue ship run by Maltese NGO 'Moas' and the Italian Red Cross, on November 4, 2016 off the coast of Libya. / AFP / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)

UN Adopts Breakthrough Convention To Address World Migration Crisis

Agreement aims to standardize state practices involving immigrants and reduce the politicization of the issue around the world

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM) was adopted this week in Marrakesh, Morocco, as a part of a conference held by the United Nations to standardize practices involving immigrants around the world. The agreement was approved by 143 nations and rejected by 10, including the United States, Australia, Israel and several other European countries.

Migrants have been at the center of European crises since 2015 when more than a million of them sought asylum in the continent, most of them fleeing the brutal civil war in Syria. The influx has divided European Union member states on dilemmas such as the moral responsibility to rescue those escaping danger zones and, more practically, how to distribute them among countries.

The impasse has led to a rise in populist politics and xenophobic attitudes in Europe and the U.S. Shortly after his election in 2016, President Donald Trump imposed a travel ban from numerous Muslim-majority nations. He also pledged to fortify the southern border with Mexico by building a wall to halt migrants from Latin America. The U.S. is currently embroiled in debates on the legality of migrant detention and family separation.

The non-binding UN convention establishes 23 objectives addressing the deep divides in global political attitudes surrounding migration, focusing on its root causes, proper responses to it, and the fight against misinformation.

The U.S. based its opposition to the pact on concerns that it impinges on the sovereignty of states. Some European nations have also expressed concerns about the initiative, whereas Germany, for example, lauded the GCM as a step towards building worldwide consensus.

“While public opinion studies reveal very little change in the overall attitudes towards migration in European populations over the last 10-15 years, there are a lot of myths and misinformation out there,” Josephine Liebl, head of International Advocacy at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, contended to The Media Line.

“There is a tendency for politicians and mainstream media to allow populist far-right groups to frame the subject and influence the debate well beyond their modest numbers. This sadly makes it extremely difficult to have a rational and pragmatic debate on the issue [of the GCM]. “

While keeping the pressing issue of migration relevant, experts maintain that the GCM has little potential to bring about tangible reforms due to its broad and non-binding objectives.

“The compact is about establishing norms. [European leaders] are emphasizing that it’s not about reducing migration flows, it’s about sending a message to the public that [governments] are taking a firm stand that migration is a threat and so citizens must be protected,” Shoshana Fine, a migration analyst and researcher at the European Council for Foreign Relations, conveyed to The Media Line.

“Nothing is novel about the compact. The problem is that it’s vast as it tries to depoliticize migration, which is obviously hard to accomplish. We could be more courageous in minimizing the security and emphasizing the morality surrounding migrants.”

Liebl stresses that there remain many challenges for organizations working to uphold refugee rights in Europe, perhaps foremost “the reduction of access to asylum, a strategy pursued by many EU members. They transfer their responsibilities for immigrants to countries outside the bloc and toughen their own borders.

“European groups trying to help refugees have come under direct attack by governments for the work they are doing.”

Nevertheless, by promoting through ventures like the GCM an effective approach to international cooperation on migration, Liebl concluded that “it is starting to be recognized as a natural phenomenon rather than a threat.”

(Victor Cabrera is a student intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)

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