IOM inches closer to global migration compact

By Amy Lieberman 19 April 2017

Undocumented Cambodian migrants arrive by train at Anranya Prathet, Thailand, prior to onward transportation to the border. Photo by: Joe Lowry / CC BY-NC-ND

A new global compact on migration edged closer to reality on Tuesday at the United Nations, as member states convened for the first of two workshops that will help lay a foundation for a new framework aimed at dealing with one of the world’s most pressing development issues.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, set to be adopted in September 2018, is not about additional funding, William Swing, the director-general of the International Organization for Migration, told Devex. Instead it is about drawing up a policy framework to cover some quarter of a billion people on the move.

“It is not, in the first instance, an issue of funding. It is an issue of trying to sign an agreement on principles and commitments and understandings that would allow us to ensure greater support and assistance for people on the move,” he explained on the sidelines of the first day of the workshop.  

The IOM estimates there are 244 million migrants, who, unlike refugees, are not protected by international law.

“These are people who do not qualify as refugees or stateless persons. These are persons from economic migrants, victims of trafficking, persons going to join their families, the sick and the elderly, women with children on the move, all of these categories that are not currently covered.”

The IOM-led Global Compact on Migration will lay out principles and commitments that individual governments would use as a guide on cross-border migration coordination. The framework would not immediately be legally binding, but could influence national policies and international norms.

The two-day workshop at the U.N. headquarters set out to address issues including the implementation of migration-related Sustainable Development Goals, examine existing approaches governments have to migration and envisage ideas of cooperation to help facilitate safe and orderly migration.

One goal would be to decrease the number of migrant deaths each year, as Swing said we are “losing too many people.” The IOM, which formally joined the U.N. last year, has documented 65,000 migrant deaths since 2000, and 1,000 so far in 2017. Those numbers don’t reflect additional, undocumented deaths in the Mediterranean Sea and other places.

“It shows our policies are not working. And therefore, it is come to say how can we come together as an international community and say, ‘How can we more responsibly and humanely manage the movement of people?,’” he said. “It should be possible, if we can manage things like free movement of capital goods and services, surely we can come up with good terms for the movement of people.”

The IOM is now leading the consultations on the compact, the idea for which stemmed from the New York Declaration reached at the U.N. Summit on Refugees and Migrants last September. A period of formal negotiations on the compact’s text will follow in March 2018, and then countries will agree on the framework in September that year.

“We have limited time but there is enough time to do it,” Swing said.

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About the author

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Amy Liebermanamylieberman

Amy Lieberman is a reporter for Devex, based out of New York, where she covers global development around the city and out of the United Nations. She has previously worked as a freelancer, reporting on the environment, social justice issues, immigration and development. Her coverage has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, Slate and The Los Angeles Times, among other outlets. She received her M.A. in politics and government from Columbia Journalism School in 2014.


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